By TITO S. TALAO
Games Today (Smart-Araneta)
5:15 p.m. Rain or Shine vs B-Meg
7:30 p.m. Ginebra vs Talk ‘N Text
Manila, Philippines – All roads lead to the Smart-Araneta Coliseum today. But from there, nobody knows where to next.
Whoever designed this format must have in his possession a crystal ball or gets a thrill bringing about heartbreaks.
Couldn’t get any better than this from the point of a fanatic: One game to pick the No. 1 team in the PBA Governors Cup Finals, and a knockout to determine which ballclub stays alive for a shot at the No. 2 spot.
After that, a do-or-die to ultimately decide the other protagonist in the best-of-7 Finals. Only then can anybody exhale before the pressure builds up again to lung-bursting point.
Just take a look at the team standings above.
Tied at the top with 9-5 win-loss cards, Rain or Shine and B-Meg severe the fragile bond between them when they meet at 5:15 p.m., with the winner advancing to the championship series.
The losers trudge back to their locker room, take a quick shower, slip into street clothes and thank their lucky stars before watching the action in the ensuing game.
Right after them at 7:30 p.m., Barangay Ginebra and Talk `N Text, dead-locked with 85 records, collide for the right to face the vanquished in the Rain or Shine-B-Meg encounter for the second finals berth while keeping away from the company of Meralco and dethroned champion Petron Blaze.
The Texters were largely responsible for making this blockbuster Wednesday happen.
With Paul Harris scoring 34 points and Ranidel de Ocampo adding 17, TNT weathered a second half comeback by Rain or Shine late Tuesday to beat the Elasto Painters, 98-90, and set up this clash of titans.
But TNT coach Chot Reyes remains guarded in his optimism.
“All we did was to buy us a little more time,“ he said. “Our situation hasn’t changed. We’re gonna come up with a game on Wednesday where we are fighting for our lives.“
Reyes might as well be echoing the sentiments of his peers Siot Tanquingcen of Ginebra, Yeng Guiao of Rain or Shine and Tim Cone of B-Meg.
Disaster lurks at every turn, with a conference on the line, individual honors at stake, and a season on the brink. One scoreless run could spell doom, a couple of converted turnovers could spark a breakaway, and a turning point could be anything from a big 3-point shot, a major defensive lapse, or even a minor coaching gambit that fails.
Should the imports cancel each other out, the performance of the local stars and the respective benches will be the key factors.
B-Meg showed a couple of nights ago how Mark Caguioa, the Ginebra hotshot, could be contained and the Tropang Texters are not beyond following the Llamados’ lead while unleashing Jayson Castro, Jimmy Alapag, Ranidel de Ocampo and Kelly Williams.
TNT, on the other hand, has displayed different ways to handle Rain or Shine’s sensational rookie Paul Lee without burning their hands and the Llamados are expected to find similar means to diffuse the former University of the East Red Warrior early.
Marc Pingris, no longer just a defensive threat, will be a major problem for the Elasto Painters who will also have to contend with howitzer James Yap and BMeg snipers Josh Urbiztondo and Jonas Villanueva.
But Lee is not without help.
Jeff Chan could turn it on any moment. And if JR Quinahan and Beau Belga could deliver ample offensive support, not just rugged presence, and Gabe Norwood could provide leadership and perimeter threat, the the Elasto Painters could still make life hellish for the Llamados.
TALK `N TEXT 98 Harris 34, De Ocampo 17, Alapag 10, Fonacier 9, Castro 8, Williams 6, Peek 6, Aguilar 5, Aban 3, Raymundo 0, Reyes 0.
RAIN OR SHINE 90 Cornley 27, Chan 15, Quinahan 14, Lee 13, Belga 11, Norwood 6, Buenafe 4, Matias 0, Tang 0, Arana 0, Ibanes 0.
Quarters: 30-21, 57-44, 8079, 98-90