For three and a half quarters, the two-time defending champion Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters had full control of the game. They led early and kept their lead, mostly in double digits, until the end, only faltering, perhaps, in the last six minutes of the game, when they allowed the Rain or Shine Elastopainters to threaten. TNT, however, stayed calm and composed, as Larry Fonacier, Jason Castro, and best player of the game Jared Dillinger finished the job. The Texters prevailed, 87-81 to draw first blood in the series.
RELATED: It's best offense vs best defense
Defense did it. Normal Black preaches discipline, especially on defense, and without that sudden Rain or Shine offensive barrage in the late stages of the game, TNT could have held Rain or Shine to just about 70 points. As a team, ROS shot under 35%. True, the Painters missed a ton of open shots, especially from the outside, but credit the TNT defense for forcing them out there, as well as for contesting every attempt ROS had in the paint.
The game was not as physical as everyone expected. Sure, there were near-tussles here and there (e.g., Bam Gamalinda and Jeff Chan late in the 1st half, Dillinger and Ronnie Matias late in the game), but the pace that TNT dictated, that it set from the get-go, which was up and down, full throttle for the most part, practically negated the bump and grind style of ROS. You can’t body up the opponent if he’s already racing to the other side of the court for a lay-up. Time and again, the Texters ran, and even if Castro benefited the most from the pace, it was not just him who thrived. Even big Ranidel de Ocampo was finishing fast breaks, and one.
Depth was definitely a factor. Observers felt that the lineups were equal in the depth department, and that both coaches could go very deep into their benches to look for production. I agree. But the TNT depth shined more brightly last night. Everyone contributed. When Coach Norman utilized seldom-used John Ferriols for a couple of minutes, and resurrected Richie Alvarez from the end of the bench, trusting the talent he had in reserve, they held their own. Alvarez even scored a bucket, as did Pamboy Raymundo, with a three-pointer. Black used fourteen players, and they all helped in one way or the other when they were on the floor. Whomever he put in, the team’s intensity and focus did not wane.
TNT rained it from rainbow country. They converted a total of 10 three-pointers, and they seemed to come at important points, whenever ROS strung a basket or two together, or after TNT had missed a few and needed some offense going. Ranidel’s consecutive three-pointers late cushioned the lead. Fonacier’s dagger in the middle of the Rain or Shine run in the fourth punctuated the importance of the home run ball. Rain or Shine only hit 4 of 21 from beyond the arc.
The Tropang Texters were a well-oiled machine, played with precision, poise, and confidence. Despite having more turnovers, they executed superbly, they played inside, they drained outside shots, they ran whenever they could, and kept their cool and did not complain about calls or non-calls. They faltered slightly in the fourth quarter when they slowed down and started missing, but they immediately righted the ship, sank some crucial baskets, manned-up on defense, and stopped ROS in their tracks. Rain or Shine must find a way to throw the Texters off their game. Coach Yeng Guiao is surely seeking answers as I write this.
For Rain or Shine, there were definitely bright spots. Despite their poor shooting, they actually had a chance to win the game. They brought the lead down to just 3 points from a high of 18. The second half of the fourth quarter is how everyone expected the entire game to be. We should expect more of that in the coming games, and not the almost total control that TNT had for the first 42 minutes. Jervy Cruz is definitely legit. He has been adjudged Player of the Week twice this conference for his consistent performances on the inside and the perimeter for the Elastopainters, and in Game 1 on the biggest stage, he was their main performer, with 13 points and 9 rebounds. Larry Rodriguez deserves special mention for his 8-point, 8-rebound output.
Rain or Shine surely already knows what it needs to do to compete all game long. They will aim to prevent TNT from gaining the early advantage, having them to play catch-up. As Game 2 approaches, those who had subpar performances in the opener (they know who they are and are surely up to the task) will do lots of soul-searching and analysis, as they feel the necessity to tie the series up at two games apiece.
It will be more intense and more physical game in Game 2, as the teams’ respective brain trusts figure out the fine-tuning, adjustments, and change-ups that could give their teams the edge. The second game of this series is set tomorrow, 11 January 2013, 6:45pm at the Mall of Asia Arena.
You can follow Charlie on Twitter @Charlie C.
Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.