Barangay Ginebra initiated the physicality but defending champion Talk ‘N Text won’t back down. Not with brawny center Ali Peek throwing his full weight around in the paint Sunday night.
With the 6-foot-4 center controlling the lane, the Tropang Texters wiped out a 17-point deficit to hack out an 87-80 victory over the Gin Kings to finish the PBA Philippine Cup eliminations on a high note at the MOA Arena in Pasay City.
Despite being an undersized center, Peek hauled down 18 big rebounds on top of 16 points and three blocks while Kelly Williams and Larry Fonacier combined for 24 markers in helping the Tropang Texters’ cause.
Armed with a twice-to-beat advantage, the top-seeded Texters, who also avenged its 101-104 defeat inflicted by Ginebra in their initial meeting last Nov. 11, now sets its sights on eighth seed Air21 in the quarterfinals.
Ginebra, led by Mark Caguioa’s 20 points, dropped to sixth with a 7-7 mark and will face third-seed Rain or Shine in a race-to-two series on Wednesday.
“There’s no such thing as a no-bearing game,” stressed TNT coach Norman Black. “We entered this game to play hard as we could because we owe much to the fans.
“ know how people behind it worked hard and the win is more about pride more than anything else. We’re gonna be number one no matter what happens.”
“Sometimes we just have to think about the league, about the players, about the teams no matter what the standings,” he added.
Holding a 49-38 lead at the break, the Gin Kings posted their biggest spread off a Kerby Raymundo floater 58-41 early in the third but the Texters, flaunting their balanced offensive attack, pulled within 68-73 into the payoff canto.
Not yet done, seven combined points by Castro and Ryan Reyes put TNT ahead 75-73 before an LA Tenorio lay-up restored Ginebra’s lead at 77-75 at the 6:55 mark.
That proved to be the Gin Kings’ last hurrah, though, as TNT uncorked a decisive 11-2 onslaught, capped by Fonacier’s booming triple for an 86-79 cushion, time down to just 2:04.
Caguioa had a chance to keep Ginebra’s hopes alive, but he missed two of his three charities as TNT kept control of the game from then on.
“Wow! I didn’t know that (his rebounding output),” a surprised Peek stated. “I was dying out there actually. I thought I didn’t played will in this arena last time out. I also felt our team got outmuscled the last time played here.”
Earlier, Meralco formally secured the fourth spot by turning back San Mig Coffee 87-77.
Veteran forward Reynel Hugnatan and Mac Cardona tallied 15 points each as the Bolts used a big fourth-quarter run to eventually notch their eighth win in 14 outings, tying idle Alaska.
The Bolts, however, emerged with a superior quotient and, in the process, forged a best-of-three quarterfinals duel with the Aces starting this Wednesday.
"We really wanted to put our spirits to the test in terms of finishing the eliminations at No. 4," stated Meralco coach Ryan Gregorio. "This is the best (eliminations) finish for our young franchise. We wanted to break barriers. Now, as No. 4, our minds are focused for the quarterfinals against Alaska."
“All of us were really inspired by Sol (Mercado) at the start. He talked to his teammates that they have to believe. One focal point is to stop (Calvin) Abueva and we have that in (Cliff) Hodge, (Gilbert) Bulawan and (Sunday) Salvacion. Alaska is not as physical as Rain or Rhine but when playoff time comes, you want to be ready,” he added.
The Mixers, who have already cemented the second seed with a 107-96 win over GlobalPort last Friday, dropped only their fourth game in 10 outings.
PJ Simon paced all scorers with 19 markers while rookie Aldrech Ramos added a career-high 15 points for San Mig Coffee, which will take on sister team Petron Blaze in the playoffs.
San Mig coach Tim Cone opted not to field former two-time MVP James Yap, who is hounded by bone spurs on his right ankle.
"Being the number two seed, this game was a luxury for San Mig," said Gregorio. "For us, we just wanted to find ways to win this one. Luckily, we did."