In Barangay Ginebra's scheme of things, Rudy Hatfield is probably something like the eighth offensive option, behind Mark Caguioa, Jackson Vroman, Jay-Jay Helterbrand, Mike Cortez, Dylan Ababou, Kerby Raymundo, and assistant coach Allan Caidic.
But against the defending champion Talk 'N Text Tropang Texters, in front of another huge Sunday crowd, the H-Bomb showed off his scoring prowess, detonating for a career-high 30 points to lift the Kings to a pulsating 94-91 overtime win that boosted Ginebra's quarterfinal bid in the PBA Commissioner's Cup.
"I'm gonna take a nap," Hatfield said after his epic performance, where he also grabbed 14 rebounds.
He certainly deserves one. On a night when Vroman was atrocious from the free throw line and Caguioa barely reached double digits in scoring, Hatfield heroically kept the Kings in the game, scattering 11 points in the fourth period to rally his team from an eight-point deficit and infusing his trademark energy on defense and rebounding as the crowd favorites grabbed a crucial win over the league-leading Tropa.
"That's what he brings," Ginebra coach Siot Tanquincen said. "It's hard to quantify. Energy-wise ang laki ng nabibigay, and that was the key for us tonight. Parang playoff energy, more than the x and o's."
A Larry Fonacier bank shot gave TNT an 80-72 lead early in the fourth period, as the Tropa once again tried to break open what had been a tight game. Hatfield and Caguioa scored a basket each to cut the deficit to four, before Donell Harvey's two free throws made it 82-76.
Hatfield then went to work, scoring eight points in a 10-0 Ginebra run that he capped with a left-handed drive that sent the crowd into a frenzy. When the run was over, Ginebra was sitting on a four-point lead with just 2:35 left, and Hatfield had cracked the top ten Philippine trending topics on Twitter.
This being TNT, though, someone just had to come up with a big triple, and Larry Fonacier did just that to slice the lead to just one with 2:15 left. Hatfield split his free throws to make it 87-85. Ranidel De Ocampo followed up his own miss to tie it up with 1:31 to go, after which Hatfield finally missed on a long two.
This was the time that TNT's poise and deep offensive arsenal was supposed to take over, but the Tropa found themselves unable to execute against a tough Ginebra defense, forcing De Ocampo to airball a hurried triple. Ginebra couldn't capitalize, though, as Caguioa missed a pull-up jumper with 34 ticks left. Given another chance to grab the lead, TNT again could not execute, with Jimmy Alapag losing the ball on a drive with 14 seconds to go.
Ginebra opted not to call a time-out, and Vroman found Hatfield alone along the right baseline. It would have been a perfect ending if Hatfield had made it, but it bounced off the rim and into the waiting arms of Cortez, whose follow-up was just a fraction of a second late. Overtime.
In the extra period, Harvey's split was answered by Hatfield's last basket of the game that made it 89-88. That big three that TNT had been looking for earlier finally came courtesy of De Ocampo, who gave the Tropa their last taste of the lead at 91-89 with 3:03 left.
Willie Wilson gave Ginebra back the lead for good with a three-point play, and De Ocampo couldn't cash in again from three-point distance. Hatfield and Jayson Castro exchanged misses, but Cortez's pass went right through the hands of Hatfield, and TNT was off and running.
Castro was ahead of the pack and looked certain to score on his layup, but Vroman chased him down and came up with a big block. Fonacier fumbled the rebound, and Vroman hustled for the ball to give possession back to the Kings. Wilson's two free throws made it 94-91 with 1: 13 to go in what would turn out to be the final score.
De Ocampo missed badly on a triple, and the Kings were able to come up with two huge offensive rebounds off their misses that allowed them to waste the clock.
When the final buzzer sounded, Ginebra had a 4-3 record, TNT slid down to 5-2, and Hatfield moved up to fifth on the trending topics list.
"It's far from over, but it's good that we won," Tanquincen said of his crew, who moved up to a tie for third with Powerade. "Everybody's capable of beating anybody at this time, and we just have to do our best each and every time."
Vroman backed up Hatfield with 24 points, but shot a miserable 1-of-12 on his free throws, including a few airballs. "That was a big concern of mine," Tanquincen admitted. "It wasn't as bad as it is now in China and Korea (where Vroman previously played)."
Tanquincen said he was at a loss trying to explain his import's free throw struggles, especially since he makes them in practice under the guidance of Caidic. The Kings were lucky TNT couldn't do a Hack-a-Jack in the dying seconds of overtime, as the ball was moved quickly around and away from Vroman.
The win allowed Ginebra to snap a two-game losing streak, and more importantly move just a game behind the pacesetting Tropa and B-Meg Llamados to set up a tight race for the top two seeds.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @Sid_Ventura