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PBA: Phelps lifts Phoenix

By Tito S. Talao

Michael Glover, Gwan Lee and Norbert TorresThe import Phoenix would have passed up a second time just gave the Fuel Masters the lift they needed to rise.

Now they have to get Eugene Phelps to a dentist for an implant to replace the front tooth he lost so he could smile again.

“It hurts when I do,” said Phelps when asked to smile for the camera inside the press room where he walked in shortly after Phoenix coach Ariel Vanguardia stepped out following a 120-107 victory over Globalport in a battle of 0-3 ballclubs in the PBA Governors’ Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Phelps, a muscular 6-foot-5 forward from Long Beach State, obliged nonetheless, revealing a gap in his upper incisors and blood clot in his lower lip where he got hit with an elbow by Globalport counterpart Michael Glover early in the third quarter.

As soon as he leaves the media room, Phelps said he would be going straight to the hospital to have the cut sutured and the space in his front teeth filled up.

“It’s a fake tooth actually,” he said.

What was real was the way he dominated the game, scoring at will on the way to 52 points, the highest output from a debuting import since the introductory 56 points of Darius Rice in the 2008 Fiesta Cup with Purefoods.

Arriving after Phoenix had lost its first three games, Phelps, who wears a unique hairdo which he said fans in Puerto Rico call the ‘pineapple,” was a force to reckon with immediately, taking Globalport defenders one-on-one even against the zone defense.

And when the Batang Pier sent a second man to double-team, Phelps stepped out and located open teammates outside the 3-point arc – John Wilson (101-97 with 6:20 remaining), Mick Pennisi (106-101 with 4:57 left) and Simon Enciso (116-107 with 1:37 to go.).

Vanguardia, only in his fourth game as Phoenix coach, owed up to not bringing in Phelps earlier.

“It’s my fault really,” said Vanguardia. “After Marcus (Simmons), Eugene was already available but we wanted to get [former NBA player] DeAndre Liggins.”

LeBron James and the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers beat them to Liggins, however, and Phoenix, through former Talk ‘N Text coach Bill Bayno, placed the call to Phelps.

Phelps was 16 of 30 from the field in his first foray in the PBA with 16 rebounds and six assists. He had 19 in the first quarter, a quiet 5 in the second, 13 in the third where he sat out five minutes to have his bloodied lip attended to, and 15 in the final period, going into a semi-duck walk to celebrate with his teammates after he tallied 52 with a 3-point play in the closing seconds.

The 50-point output was a first for Phelps, who had 43 two years ago when he played in Mexico.

Despite the cut, Phelps said the PBA pales in comparison to the physicality of the games in Mexico and Puerto Rico.

“It’s like wrestling over there,” he said, flashing that smile which the press might see more often minus the gap in the near future.

Asked of his first impression in his first four days in the country, Phelps said, “I had jet lag for a while. But the coaches are good and my teammates are good; the only thing bad is the traffic.”

Globalport, which fell to 0-4, was within 98-97 and then 106-103 with five minutes left. But Phelps hit two free throws and completed a 3-point play in a 7-1 run to quell the threat.

In the second game, the San Miguel Beermen defeated the Star Hotshots, 109-100.

PHOENIX 120 – Phelps 52, Lee 16, J. Wilson 15, W. Wilson 10, Baguio 9, Enciso 6, Pennisi 5, Lanete 4, Cruz 3, Buenafe 0, Caperal 0, Torres 0.

GLOBALPORT 107 – Glover 27, Pringle 27, Romeo 20, Yeo 14, Washington 13, Dehesa 4, Mamaril 2, Isip 0, Kramer 0, Semerad 0, Taha 0.

Quarters: 33-26; 58-53; 86-85; 120-107.