3 p.m. – NLEX vs Meralco
5:15 p.m. – San Miguel vs Alaska
It was good while it lasted. And for the Blackwater Elite, a third straight win at the expense of the only ballclub to win the PBA Philippine Cup three straight times may be stretching its fortune a bit too far.
At rock bottom in four of their previous six conferences, the Elite saw their bid to turn the world upside down and grab solo leadership extinguished by the TNT KaTropa, 99-92, last night as Jayson Castro and Mo Tautuaa combined for 40 points at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Both the Elite and KaTropa now tote 2-1 records, with TNT assistant coach Josh Reyes holding the fort until incoming head coach Nash Racela takes over full time starting with the Meralco game on Dec. 9.
“We didn’t start the way we wanted to, we only adjusted,” said Reyes, son of Gilas Pilipinas mentor Chot Reyes. “We need to come out every time with the right things in mind.”
It was Blackwater which had a clear idea on how to come off the gate against a powerhouse opponent: hit the ground running.
Kyle Pascual had 8 points in the first quarter and rookie Mac Belo and Art dela Cruz 6 each as the Elite raced to a 30-21 lead at the end of the first.
That was enough to rouse up the KaTropa, who shut down the Elite’s top three scorers in the second quarter while sending Tautuaa, Castro and Larry Fonacier to establish control for a 50-46 edge at halftime.
TNT used a 13-point run to bridge the first two periods and seize the upper hand, eventually opening an 88-75 early in the fourth.
A loss to a multi-titled champion like TNT, Blackwater coach Leo Isaac said, doesn’t necessarily set back any progress they have had.
“Di naman,” Isaac said. “In a way, it’s a good tool to motivate our players some more. There were learning points in that game for us like our tendency to make our own mistakes against a much-better team.”
Belo, who keyed Far Eastern’s UAAP championship reign last year under Racela and Reyes, had another big game with 21 points and 9 rebounds. But not even his 15-point second half performance could deny the KaTropa, who were steered away from turbulent waters by veterans Castro and Ranidel de Ocamp0, who had 10 of his 15 points in the final 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, the PBA has confirmed that the mammoth Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan will host the Christmas Day games pitting Manila Clasico teams Barangay Ginebra San Miguel against the Star Hotshots, following the Mahindra (formerly Kia Motors)-Blackwater curtainraiser.
Two years ago, the PBA opened its 40th season in the 55,000-capacity venue owned by the Iglesia Ni Cristo, with a jaw-dropping record crowd of 52, 612 coming in droves to watch Ginebra battle Talk ‘N Text, and expansion teams Blackwater take on Kia, with boxing champion Manny Pacquiao as playing-coach.
“We’ve met twice with INC management, including Tuesday with TV5 and TicketNet,” said PBA media bureau chief Willie Marcial. “An agreement was reached in principle last Wednesday.”
Validation and redemption, meantime, will be the overlying subplots when defending champion San Miguel Beer and Alaska, the team three minutes away from cutting at the bud a historic SMB comeback last season, clash for the first time this conference.
It won’t be a rematch of the last all-Filipino finals by any stretch. Nonetheless, both teams will get a measure of how far they will probably go this conference when they meet at 5:15 p.m.
In the first game, NLEX shoots for a 2-0 slate when it meets previous Governors’ Cup finalist Meralco at 3 p.m. The Bolts suffered an 86-84 setback to the Blackwater Elite, who are off to a franchise-best 2-0 start.
TNT 99 – Tautuaa 20, Castro 20, De Ocampo 15, Fonacier 11, Rosario 8, Rosser 8, Carey 5, Reyes 5, Williams 4, Pogoy 3, Hernandez 0, Rosales 0, Golla 0.
BLACKWATER 92 – Belo 21, Pascual K. 14, Pinto 14, Dela Cruz 12, Cervantes 10, Miranda 5, Ababou 4, Aguilar 4, Buenafe 4, Sena 4, Banal 0, R. Pascual 0, Forrester 0.
Quarters: 21-30; 50-46; 76-67; 99-92.