It’s TNT vs. B-Meg

Jarde Dillinger slices through the Barako Bull defense. (Photo courtesy of the PBA)

Defending champion Talk 'N Text, going all-Filipino in the last few minutes, finally put away the pesky  Barako Bull Energy, 101-90, in their winner-take-all Game 5 showdown to arrange a mouth-watering best-of-seven Commissioner's Cup finals showdown with the B-Meg Llamados.

Donnell Harvey scored 29 points to lead the Texters, but had to sit down with 4:47 left and TNT up by just four, 88-84, after picking up his fifth foul. Chot Reyes found no need to put Harvey back into the game, though, as his locals led by Jimmy Alapag and Ranidel De Ocampo kept the Energy at bay with big plays down the stretch.

De Ocampo split his free throws and then Alapag hit a long triple to give the Texters a 92-84 lead, but back-to-back baskets by Ronald Tubid kept the Energy within striking distance with barely three minutes left. On the next play, Alapag beat his man off the dribble, forcing Danny Seigle to help out and leave his man De Ocampo open in the corner. Alapag dished it to De Ocampo, who hit a triple and was fouled by Seigle, who rushed back to cover.

The TNT forward completed the four-point play to restore his team's eight-point advantage, and Alapag virtually sealed the deal with a breakaway layup off a Barako turnover with only 1:50 left, sending the Texters to their fifth straight finals appearance, a feat last accomplished by the 1999-00 San Miguel Beermen.

"Ranidel's four-point play and Jimmy's three," TNT Coach Chot Reyes said, "were the points that mattered."

 It was the fifth straight elimination game won by TNT dating back to last conference, where they overcame a 1-3 deficit against Petron in the semifinals. Against Barako Bull, they fell behind 1-2 before leveling the series last Monday with a 108-90 rout.

But while the Texters handily won Game 4 (and Game 2), they struggled to shake off the Energy in this one. Barako Bull clawed back from a 49-60 deficit early in the third period and came to within 74-77 entering the fourth on a triple by Ronald Tubid.

The lead fluctuated between four and eight points for most of the fourth until Alapag and De Ocampo delivered the knockout blows. The Energy finally ran out of steam as they were limited to a single basket in the last three minutes.

"I want to pay tribute to Jimmy," Reyes said. "He had to leave for the U.S. because his father has cancer, then a week after his brother suffered a stroke. I think I would be remiss if I don't share my admiration for my players. Kelly (Williams) playing with a fractured cheek, Ali (Peek) with a broken hand and my import with a broken nose."

Standing in the way of TNT's quest for a repeat and second jewel in their grand slam crown are the Lllamados, who have looked more and more impressive as the conference progresses.

"It's always a special feeling to be in the finals. It never gets old," Reyes said. "We have no illusions about the other team. They're very good, they're very big. It's a 50-50 proposition. We will be facing the team with the deepest bench. We've got to devise a game plan to stop B-Meg. They're really playing very well."

The best-of-seven series gets going on Monday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

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