This was what Junel Baculi was afraid of. Unfortunately, there wasn't much his team could do about it.
After beating Talk 'N Text, 84-77, in Game 1 last Tuesday, the Barako Bull mentor said he expected the defending champs to come back and make adjustments in Game 2.
"We have to get ready for that," Baculi said.
Whatever preparations the Energy did for the expected TNT response in Game 2, they obviously weren't enough. The Tropang Texters showed the full force of their offensive arsenal in a 123-98 rout that leveled their best-of-five semifinal series at one game apiece.
"Last game we were completely blown out," TNT coach Chot Reyes said. "That's what the series is, they drew first blood, we made adjustments. We just gotta be prepared for their adjustments in Game 3."
Donell Harvey rebounded from a mediocre Game 1 with 24 points, one of seven Texters who scored at least 10 points. They included point guard Jimmy Alapag, who hit 12 after going scoreless in Game 1, and power forward Kelly Williams, who wasn't even supposed to play after sustaining a deep cut on his cheek but who also chipped in 12.
"Before the game Kelly wasn't gonna play but he kept telling me from the bench he's ready," Reyes said. "A really courageous act from Kelly."
Barako Bull actually went toe to toe with TNT in the first period as Gabe Freeman got off to a hot start, scoring 15 points in the opening quarter to help the Energy wrest a 25-24 lead. But Freeman fizzled out afterwards, hitting a solitary basket in the second period when TNT gradually began to pull away. He wouldn't score again until 8:45 of the fourth period, a three-point play that cut TNT's lead to 99-83. By that time, though, the game was pretty much over.
The Energy came with six points on a couple of occasions in the third behind Don Allado's 14 third-quarter points, but Alapag joined hands with Jayson Castro and Williams to give the Tropa an 82-69 lead. TNT kept the lead at double digits the rest of the way, and Larry Fonacier's back-to-back triples late in the fourth delivered the final blow, giving the Tropa their largest lead of the night at 111-88.
The Tropa shut down Game 1 hero Dorian Pena, who didn't come close to his Game 1 double-double and finished with only four points and one rebound. On offense, TNT's outside shooting, missing in Game 1, finally clicked as the Tropa picked apart Barako Bull's zone defense with good ball movement and timely three-point shots.
"Today we made some shots, and it took them out of their zone," Reyes noted. Aside from Harvey, Alapag and Williams, Ranidel De Ocampo (18 points), Fonacier (14), Ryan Reyes (13) and Castro (10) all hit double figures. In Game 1, these seven players could only combine for 60 points.
The game, as expected, was heated and got physical at times, with Jared Dillinger getting ejected as the third period was winding down.
"It's very, very physical out there," Reyes said. "I told the players we have to fight. We can't allow them to push us around. I told them Barako is a very deep team. They're experienced and we won't be able to surprise them."
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