The Barako Bull Energy proved that their Game 1 win was no fluke, building a 21-point lead and holding off a spirited Talk 'N Text rally to prevail, 85-81, last night and move within a win of the PBA Commissioner's Cup finals.
Gabe Freeman bounced back from a disappointing second-half Game 2 performance with 27 points and 14 rebounds, while Mick Pennisi finally broke out of a shooting slump by hitting four three-pointers and chipping in 14 points to help put the Energy on the threshold of the finals.
Barako Bull had previously lost 16 of its last 17 meetings with the Tropang Texters dating back to the 2008-09 season, but they have shown poise and resiliency in this series. They shrugged off a 25-point loss in Game 2 and rediscovered the defensive intensity that helped them win Game 1, holding TNT to just 39% shooting.
"During the second game I told our players we got blown off but TNT just got even," said Energy coach Junel Baculi. "It's one loss but it's up to us if we can bounce back. The players showed they want to win this one."
The Energy go for the clincher tomorrow, and Baculi is treating Game 4 as a must-win for his team.
"We'll try to slay a giant on Monday because if ever they can win Monday's game I think we're in trouble," he said, correctly pointing out that their opponents were recently in a much bigger hole in the Philippine Cup semis against Petron Blaze. "TNT has been here before. Actually the very recent one, they were down 3-1 but they still won the championship."
Barako Bull's defense was particularly stifling in the first half, where they held TNT to just 31 points. The Energy opened the third period with a 12-2 run to post their largest lead of the night at 54-33 as the Texters' offensive woes continued.
Jimmy Alapag and Donell Harvey joined forces to cut the lead down to seven, 63-56, before Danny Seigle's triple helped the Energy restore the lead to double-digits at the end of the third, 67-57.
Trailing 70-77, the Texters bucked the ejection of Alapag with 4:37 left in the game and gradually chipped away at the deficit, with Kelly Williams' two free throws bringing them to within one at 81-82 with 57 ticks left.
Willie Miller gave the Energy more breathing room by sinking a couple of charities off a Carey foul with 43 seconds left, and after TNT came up empty on their next possession, Pennisi made one of two with 26 seconds to go. The Texters wouldn't score again, sealing the Energy's big win.
Just like in Game 1, an all-around effort from the Barako veterans was the key to this win. Aside from Freeman's double-double and Pennisi's sold outside shooting, Miller came away with 17 points and six assists, Seigle had 14 points and five boards, and Ronald Tubid had eight points and nine rebounds and goaded Alapag into committing his second technical foul.
Baculi is hoping his troops can duplicate this effort tomorrow, especially on the defensive end, as they seek to finish off the defending champions.
"As always we'll keep the score low for us to have a chance. I hope we show the same effort, intensity and desire. We have to go back to our tapes and study, because if we give it to TNT on Monday mahihirapan kami."
"They were not hitting their shots and we were making ours. We must not wait for TNT to hit their shots, we must make them miss their shots. We're sticking to a game plan, we're sticking to a system. Let's stick to that and see what happens."
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @Sid_Ventura.