Changing an import in the middle of the playoffs is not an easy decision but Talk 'N Text coach Norman Black gambled, dumping the 7-foot Jerome Jordan in favor of the 6-foot-5 Tony Mitchell who helped the team grab a 2-1 lead in the semifinals.
Black appears to have made the right decision as Mitchell proved to be a gem of an import.
As explosive as he was advertised, the former NBA D-League Rookie of the Year scattered 29 points to lead TNT to a 98-80 blowout over Ginebra in Game 3 of their best-of-five semis series in the PBA Commissioner's Cup last Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The win pushed the Tropang Texters within a win of advancing to the finals for the 8th time in 15 conferences after taking a 2-1 lead in their series.
Game 4 is set today at 6:45 p.m. at the Smart Araneta Coliseum with Ginebra coach Alfrancis Chua trying to put a stop on the new import in the block.
But can they put a lock on Mitchell?
Besides his game-best output, Mitchell also grabbed 12 boards while at the same time providing the injury plagued Texters energy and inspiration.
Playing in front of a record sellout crowd of 23,108 appeared to have energized Mitchell although most of the fans were rooting for the Kings.
Mitchell's astonishing debut impressed Black and said the player reminded him of another former import known for his scoring.
"Tony Mitchell reminds me of Tony Harris," said Black, referring to the former Swift reinforcement nicknamed the "Hurricane" who scored 105 points - still a PBA record - on Oct. 10, 1992 against Ginebra in Iloilo City.
Coach Chua threw everything at Mitchell, alternating Chris Ellis, Mac Baracael and Willy Wilson, but they all failed.
Mitchell was supposed to be the Texters' reinforcement for the Governors' Cup, but the team advanced his outing after noting that their import Jerome Jordan could not keep pace with the requirements of the moment.
It also did not help that injuries had sidelined two key players --Jared Dillinger (hip surgery following a car accident) and Jimmy Alapag (right calf muscle).
With Mitchell showing that he can be a force in the playoffs, the decision to dump Jordan looks like the right one.
TNT appears to have borrowed a page from San Miguel which, in 2005, in the semifinal stage, tabbed Ace Custis, who took the spot of Chris Burgess for Game 3 of the series versus Red Bull. Custis.
He helped the team get to the finals, which the Beermen eventually won against TNT during the 2005 Fiesta Cup.
Significantly, Mitchell is TNT's fourth import this conference after Keith Benson, Donnell Harvey and Jordan, as the team appears to living to the adage that if at first you don't succeed, try and try again.
Black said they have to stay focused if they want to end the series today.
"We're expecting Ginebra to bring all of their energy into the game (today), so we'll have to play our best game if we want to end the series," said Black, whose team outscored Ginebra in the third period of Game 3 (28-11) that turned a 43-48 halftime deficit to 71-59 entering the final frame.
With its back against the wall, Ginebra may field reigning MVP Mark Caguioa, who has yet to play in the playoffs due to a left knee injury.
FINALS ON TV5
Meantime, Finals series will be seen on live on TV5 starting May 15.
Game 1 of the best-of-five series will start at 7:30 p.m. at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.