(Editor’s note: Yahoo! PH Sports looks back at the year that was with a series of blogs recalling the highlights and lowlights of Philippine sports.)
It would be a Clash of the Titans, for sure, with two of the perennial contenders going at it for the 2012 PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals. The Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters and the B-Meg Llamados (now San Mig Coffee Mixers) had gone through rigorous challenges in the eliminations and playoff rounds, and were set to meet in what promised to be an epic duel for the 2012 Second Conference Championship.
Along the way, the number 3 seed Llamados had to beat Meralco 2-1 in the quarterfinals, and then go up against the second-seeded Barangay Ginebra Kings in the semis. B-Meg upset the outright semifinal qualifier Barangay in four games, 3-1.
TNT had an easier time, as the second outright qualifier to the semis, where it waited for Barako Bull, which had ousted Alaska 2-1 in the quarterfinals. The Texters were challenged, but eventually prevailed over Barako, 3-2.
The stage was set. Powerful lineups would go at it for the crown. On one side were the two-time MVP James Yap, ably supported by scorer Peter June Simon, The Fireball Josh Urbiztondo, rebounder Marc Pingris, and long centers Yancy de Ocampo and Raffy Reavis. TNT had a virtual All-Star lineup, with premier players at every position, led by former MVPs Jimmy Alapag and Kelly Williams, supported by The Blur, Jason Castro, Ryan Reyes, Ranidel de Ocampo, and Larry Fonacier, among others.
The giant imports were a stark contrast. Young Denzel Bowles for B-Meg was barely out of college, playing just his second overseas stint. He was a jump-shooter, above-average rebounder, but neither quick of foot nor rock-strong in the paint. Donnell Harvey was an NBA veteran, a first-round draft pick, who had an iffy shot, but could pound the ball inside and had a knack for put-backs from offensive boards.
In Game 1, B-Meg drew first blood, winning 88-82. The imports led their teams in scoring and rebounding (Bowles 25 and 11, Harvey 25 and 13), and the close score was only a slight indication of things to come in what would be one of the most memorable Best-of-Seven series in recent memory.
Talk ‘N Text quickly recovered to claim Game 2, with an even closer score of 104-102. Again, the imports took center stage (Harvey 29 and 14, Bowles 33 and 13), but this time the TNT locals ably supported Harvey (Castro 23, Reyes 13, Peek 12, Williams 8) in the scoring column to help eke out the game. Bowles’ made a crucial passing error late in the game that aided TNT in securing the victory.
In the crucial Game 3, Ryan Reyes (21 points) stepped up together with Harvey (21 and 14 rebounds), but their efforts went for naught as B-Meg held on in the endgame to take a 2-1 series lead with a 91-87 victory. Bowles had a monster game with 28 points, 13 rebounds and 6 blocked shots before fouling out. Yap had 21 points of his own.
In what was becoming a see-saw series, TNT took control in Game 4 in what would be the first rout in the match-up, going on to win, 100-85. Bowles only had 17 points and the B-Meg locals’ shooting went sour, as the shooters of Talk ‘N Text delivered all game long. Seven TNT players scored at least 9 points, led by Jared Dillinger and Fonacier with 18 points apiece. In this game, Texters rookie Pamboy Raymundo was thrown out for hitting, first, Urbiztondo with an elbow, then later, Joe Devance, after Devance reacted to the earlier elbow on his smaller teammate. Devance was also sent to the showers early for throwing the ball at Raymundo.
With the series tied at 2 games each, B-Meg took its turn to win big in the series in Game 5, seizing an 82-66 victory, led by The Man with a Million Moves, Big Game James Yap, who tallied 30 points, shooting 10 of 16 from the field. The game was actually tight through three quarters, but Yap hit a last second three-pointer at the end of the third, to stretch the B-Meg lead to 6, 59-53. The Llamados dominated in the fourth, pulling away, and once again held a one-game lead in the series, with only one win left to win it all. Bowles ended with 28 points, 18 rebounds and 4 blocks. His nickname, Monster Bowles, was becoming more and more appropriate with each monster game.
Talk ‘N Text in recent years has always been a title contender, and showed in Game 6 why they are a team feared by the rest. They played smartly all game long, led by Castro’s 25 points and tied the series to force a Game 7 decider, winning 92-82. Former NBA center Luc Longley and boxing trainer Freddie Roach were in the audience, to witness the Texters withstand the 33 points of Bowles and 27 of Yap. No other Llamado scored in double figures, however, dooming the team in the process.
As if the series had not had its share of controversy, Game 7 would truly be one for the books. TNT Coach Chot Reyes mentioned that, since it all boiled down to one game anyway, they should not have played the first six. Point taken, but then they would have deprived the fans of endless drama, action, suspense, horror, and occasional comedy along the way.
All series long, Bowles had delivered for B-Meg. Sure, he had a miscue here and there, a missed jumper every so often, but he was emerging more and more each game, dominating in scoring and on the boards, more than he had done earlier in the Conference. Game 7 would be the perfect setting for him to cement his legacy in the annals of PBA Finals greatness.
The game was a tight one all the way, and late in the fourth quarter, it seemed TNT had taken control. Alapag (29 points) was having his best scoring night of the series, and his team led in the last minute. In what is deemed to be one of the most controversial foul calls in PBA history, Kelly Williams was called for a push on Bowles, after Bowles muffed a lay-up off a brilliant Yap pass, with TNT ahead by 2 points with a little over a second left in regulation. Pressure mounted, Bowles looked visibly worried, but stepped up to the line to drill two game-tying free throws, sending the game into overtime.
Bowles cried. He was in tears in front of more than 20,000 fans, as Team Manager Alvin Patrimonio hugged him, but reminded him that there was still a five-minute overtime period to play. Bowles composed himself, then, it seems, decided that he would not rest on his achievement of sending the game into OT. He took control from that point, scoring 11 of B-Meg’s 14 OT points, putting the game, and the series, away, 90-84. Book it. 2012 PBA Commissioner’s Cup goes to the B-Meg Llamados!
Overall, this was one of the most-watched series in recent PBA history. People were talking about it, word spread about how intense each game went, and attendance, as well as viewership, rose from game to game. An average of more than 16,000 paid to watch each game live at the Big Dome, and the crowds were loud and very involved. James Yap was adjudged the Finals MVP, but the spotlight was undoubtedly on Bowles, who played the best basketball of his life, leading his team to the championship. Controversy and all, this series will be remembered for years to come.
You can follow Charlie Cuna 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.