In a crucial game where a loss could mean elimination, Mick Pennisi gave a whole new meaning to the phrase "taking one for the team."
The Barako Bull forward, who drew the tough task of guarding new Petron Blaze import Will McDonald, got under McDonald's skin early in the second period with some rugged defending and arm locking. Deciding that he had finally had enough, McDonald threw the ball at Pennisi's forehead, and Pennisi, taken by surprise, looked at McDonald, then belatedly fell to the floor in a great acting job that got McDonald ejected on a flagrant foul 2 call.
The Energy were already ahead by 10 at the time of Pennisi's Oscar-winning move, and with no McDonald on the floor, Rodney White went to town and pumped in 41 points and 22 rebounds to lead Barako Bull to a 94-80 win in the PBA Commissioner's Cup.
McDonald probably still would have been thrown out even if Pennisi didn't fall to the ground, since his throwing the ball was clearly malicious, but the delayed-reaction move elicited laughter from everyone who witnessed it, and helped make the six-ten forward become a trending topic on Twitter.
"What was that, Mick? Hahahahaha," tweeted Alaska guard LA Tenorio.
B-Meg's Joe Devance also got a good laugh, tweeting, "That was the funniest thing I have ever seen in my whole life!!!! Ever!!!!!! I'm 30 years old."
McDonald, who flew in to replace Nick Fazekas, had probably the most inauspicious debut by a PBA import, playing only 16 minutes and finishing with only seven points.
"Nagulat kami dun sa ginawa ng import (McDonald)," Barako Bull coach Junel Baculi said. "We got lucky he got thrown out. It would have been different if he did not."
Forced to play all-Filipino, the Blaze Boosters fell behind by as many as 24 points late in the second period before Joseph Yeo led an 18-3 that cut the lead to only nine, 55-46, midway through the third period.
But White scored nine of his game-high 41 in a 19-6 counterattack that pushed the Energy up by 22 at the end of three, 74-52. By this time White already had 33 points and 17 rebounds as Petron's local big men were helpless in stopping him. Petron made one last move in the fourth when Danny Ildefonso and Alex Cabagnot both hit triples to cut it to 81-70, but White hit two free throws, a follow-up and a drive to give the Energy an insurmountable 87-72 lead with only 2:44 left.
"Rodney is a versatile import," said Baculi, whose team moved up to a tie for fifth with an even 4-4 card. "We're always number 8 or number 9. Now we're finishing strong. With a little bit of luck maybe we can enter the quarters."
Barako Bull can formalize its entry to the quarterfinals with a win over crowd favorite Barangay Ginebra in their last game, but Baculi knows that will be easier said than done.
"Ginebra is tough, and we might have to bring out all that we know in basketball to beat (them)."
Petron sank to its third straight loss, and at 3-5 the Blaze Boosters are in real danger of missing the quarters. They face the defending champion Talk 'N Text Tropang Texters in their last match, and even if they win, a series of other results must happen for them to sneak into the top six.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @Sid_Ventura