Even with a complete lineup, the Powerade Tigers were the acknowledged underdogs against the might defending champion Talk 'N Text Tropang Texters in the PBA Philippine Cup finals. But take rookie JV Casio out of the equation, and the situation becomes even more one-sided.
Without the injured Casio, who was nursing a hamstring injury, the Tropang Texters just had too many weapons for the Tigers and easily took Game 1 of the finals, 116-100. It seemed every quarter a different TNT player would step up for Chot Reyes to keep the Tigers at bay.
In the first quarter, it was Ryan Reyes, who hit all his four three-point shots and helped spark a 13-0 TNT run that essentially broke the game wide open and laid the groundwork for the 16-point win. By the end of the first, TNT had dropped 38 points on the Tigers, with Reyes accounting for 12 of them.
Larry Fonacier took over from Reyes in the second period, with the steady guard pumping in 10 points, including two triples that came just when Powerade was threatening to reduce the deficit to single digits. Jayson Castro also got going, chipping in eight to help stake TNT to a 68-52 halftime lead.
In the third, the Tigers finally got it down to single digits with a 15-4 run that made it 74-67. That was the cue for Ranidel De Ocampo to take over. The smooth forward personally stopped Powerade's rally by scoring eight unanswered points that pushed TNT's lead back up to 82-67. He would score 10 points in the third period, with Jared Dillinger adding eight as the Tropa hung tough and brought a 96-81 lead into the fourth and final period.
After averaging 32 points in the first three periods, the Tropa's offense slowed down somewhat in the fourth, where they managed only 20 points and had to weather a last-ditch run by Powerade that cut the lead to 10. This time the TNT attack was more balanced, with Castro and Dillinger hitting six each, and Alapag, De Ocampo, Fonacier and Ali Peek all contributing two each. Alapag's two free throws with 3:33 left restored TNT's double-digit spread at 109-98, after which Fonacier forced Gary David into a turnover that more or less destroyed whatever momentum the Tigers still had.
It was a particularly rough night for David, who struggled for only 19 points and turned the ball over several times. The Tigers go an unexpected boost from Sean Anthony, who led the way with 23 points, and back-up point guard Rudy Lingganay, who tried his best to fill Casio's void by chipping in 13, but overall Powerade just had no answer for TNT's hot shooting and efficient offense. If Fonacier, Reyes and De Ocampo weren't lighting it up from the outside, Castro and Dillinger were repeatedly taking it strong to the hole unmolested for easy layups. Castro led TNT's balanced offense with 23 points, with Reyes and Dillinger hitting 15 each and Fonacier and De Ocampo chipping in 14 apiece.
"I think right now the best running team is Powerade," Chot Reyes said afterwards. "We just caught a break right now dahil wala si JV Casio. When JV is there, it's gonna be a completely different team. We cannot be happy about this win. All it did was give us a 1-0 lead. But we need to be ready for Game 2 because JV is gonna play and we will see a real big Powerade comeback. Kailangan ready tayo.
"It wasn't about making a statement or anything. We just focused on playing our game."
Reyes was also happy with his team's defensive effort on David, the tournament's leading scorer at 25 points per game who had scored 30 or more points in seven of the Tigers' last nine games.
"I think we did a good job containing him. We tried to keep to around 14 points (actually 19). That's a big part of our defensive objectives per game."
Casio is expected to suit up in Game 2 on Monday (yes, Game 2 is on Monday, not the usual Sunday), but it remains to be seen if he will be 100%. The Tigers also need to get more from their bench, which hardly produced anything in Game 1 with Celino Cruz, Will Antonio, Josh Vanlandingham, Alex Crisano, Rommel Adducul and Francis Allera all combining for just 14 points. Cruz and Antonio came up big against Rain or Shine in Game 7 last Wednesday, hitting 10 points each, but against TNT they could only manage four and three respectively.