At the start of the PBA Commissioner's Cup, Alaska coach Joel Banal made the tough decision to scrap the team's triangle offense in favor of a more free-flowing offense. Bonbon Custodio is one Aces player who's happy with the change, and against the Petron Blaze Boosters he showed how deadly he can be in full flight.
Custodio had 17 points and five assists, fellow high flyer Cyrus Baguio added 19, and import Adam Parada contributed 22 and a dose of physicality as the Aces proved steadier in the clutch, carving out a 93-88 win in a crucial elimination round game.
"Nakakatakbo kami ng maayos ngayon, so fit na fit sa game ko," said Custodio, who rattled off five points in the last 1:20 to help fend off the Blaze Boosters.
Petron as having its way with Alaska in the first half, leading by double digits several times and entering the halftime break up by 11, 53-42. Banal challenged his team to stand up to the physicality, and in the second half they responded, with Parada leading the way.
"We anticipated from the start that we know for sure Petron will come out and play a playoff game," Banal noted. "At the half I was trying to convince the team that if we don't play a physical game, we can't win."
To Banal's delight the Aces came charging back in the third period, holding Petron to only 12 points to seize the lead at 66-65 heading into the fourth.
"The key was when Adam ran over (Alex) Cabagnot," Banal said. "We felt that the physical screens have to stop. Our guards were defending Cabagnot very well. Mac Baracael hit some big shots and he was making big stops. It's a matter of having that mindset. We have to return the favor. That started the run."
Baracael finished with only six points, but hit a big triple with 7:12 left that gave the Aces an 81-73 lead. The Blaze Boosters went on an 11-2 run to regain the upper hand at 84-83 before Parada made two free throws and Custodio scored back-to-back baskets in a 6-0 Alaska run that put the Aces up by five with just under a minute remaining.
Arwind Santos buried a jumper to cut the deficit to just three with 47 seconds left, but moments later Nick Fazekas was called for a crucial technical foul for delaying the game, and LA Tenorio sank the bonus free throw to make it a two-possession game at 90-86. The Aces couldn't get a shot off, though, on their next offensive possession, and Santos hit another jumper to make it 90-88 with only 14 ticks left.
The Blaze Boosters fouled Custodio, and he made the first but missed the second. But Parada came up with a huge offensive rebound and got the ball to Tenorio, whose two charities with 9.8 seconds left iced the game.
Alaska notched a crucial fourth win against three losses, good enough for solo fourth. "I have to make my players understand that we're ending the elims with three big teams," Banal said.
The Aces will play B-Meg and Powerade in their last two elimination round games. Off the court, there was a bit of a distraction following news that the Uytengsu family had sold majority of their shares in the company to a foreign group, sparking fears that the franchise might fold. To give the team some peace of mind, Fred Uytengsu himself visited the team and reassured everyone that the team was here to stay.
"I would like to thank Mr. Fred Uytengsu for coming over at practice and assuring us that he's still at the helm and that felt good," Banal said.
Petron slipped to 3-4 and found itself in a tie for sixth with surging Meralco. The Blaze Boosters have dropped two in a row after a three-game winning streak in what has been an up-and-down campaign. They will most likely need to sweep their last two games against Barako Bull and Talk 'N Text to avoid any complications.
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