Now or never: Commissioner's Cup goes to Game 7

By Jason Inocencio

Posted at Apr 28 2015 10:00 PM | Updated as of Apr 29 2015 06:00 AM

Ivan Johnson of Talk 'N Text goes against Wayne Chism of Rain or Shine. PBA Images

Everything but an ending. That can sum up what the 2015 PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals has been so far.

As we look to one final game to determine who will be crowned champions, the struggle between the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters and the Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters has been nothing short of titanic.

In six games, we have been treated to high-octane offense, bruising defense, tons of physicality, and a healthy dose of trash-talking both on and off the court. The brilliance of both sides cannot be questioned, and the ability of coaches Yeng Guiao and Jong Uichico to get the best out of their respective squads has been marvelous.

Chan guts it out

Just when RoS stalwart Jeff Chan was thought to be out of the series, the former FEU Tamaraw did his own impression of Willis Reed to inspire his team. Suffering from a plantar fascia tear in his right foot, Chan was able to nail 11 big points to help the Elasto Painters stave off elimination with a 101-93 victory that forged a do-or-die affair on April 29 at the historic Smart Araneta Coliseum.

In truth, it was a combination of Chan’s inspiring appearance, Best Import Wayne Chism’s game-long brilliance, and the critical contributions of Raymund Almazan and Paul Lee that prevented the Tropang Texters from holding aloft their first trophy since 2013.

Games 4 and 5 had seen Ranidel de Ocampo display the versatility, strength, and range that have made him a regular on the Gilas-Pilipinas squad. Thus, Guiao was going to need some kind of response from any of his big men to counteract RDO.

Lee was able to neutralize the offensive output of Best Player of the Conference Jayson Castro with 16 points against Castro’s 17. De Ocampo was still able to deliver 21 points, but it was the absence of Ivan Johnson’s points that clearly hurt TNT. The often-volatile Johnson was limited to a measly six markers, something no Texter fan was expecting after his performance in the last game.

Rough and tumble

Johnson has been the target of criticism by Guiao since the Finals started, and there are no signs of that stopping even after this series finishes. It was the former Atlanta Hawk’s right elbow that knocked out three of Lee’s teeth in Rain or Shine’s 109-97 win in Game 3. It was Johnson who was fined P150,000 for intentionally bumping Guiao in Talk ‘N Text’s 99-92 Game 1 win. It was Johnson who seemed to hit both Lee and Chris Tiu with impunity in Game 6 but wasn’t called for any flagrant fouls.

Guiao has never been shy about criticizing the officiating in the PBA, and he has been particularly on fire in calling out Johnson for his tactics. The words “mentally unstable” and “menace” have been thrown out by the fiery mentor against the import, effectively adding another element to this combustible brew.

The struggle has carried on to the benches as swingmen Jireh Ibanes and Matt Ganuelas-Rosser were engaged in a shoving match into the area outside the court in Game 4. That incident resulted in Rain or Shine’s JR Quinahan throwing a basketball at Ganuelas-Rosser, which would then lead to his suspension in Game 5.

There is no doubt that bad blood has been brewing between both sides, and things look to all come to a head in the seventh game.

For his part, Uichico has shown to be a silent yet still effective counterpoint to Guiao. The seven-time PBA champion coach has quietly shaped the TNT lineup to his standards, turning former Most Valuable Player Kelly Williams into a role player and defensive stopper on Chism.

He’s also given a lot of confidence to rookie Kevin Alas, allowing the point guard out of Letran to make decisions at crunch time, together with veterans Johnson, Castro, De Ocampo, and Larry Fonacier.

There must be a winner

As someone who has been watching his fair share of basketball over the years, I could tell before this series even began that it would go to a deciding Game 7. The sides were too evenly matched, no team had too clear of an edge over their opponent. Though the coaches’ styles and personalities may be different, it’s been obvious that what they’ve been doing has been working and has given each mentor many a PBA title in their respective careers.

I fully expect Johnson to recover from his six-point Game 6 to match Chism on the offensive end. If he can control his temper and not let Quinahan, Beau Belga or any of Guiao’s psychological tactics affect him, the Commissioner’s Cup might just go to the Texters.

It goes without saying that De Ocampo and Castro will need to carry this team if they are going to win. Castro needs to be as brilliant as he was in the semifinals when TNT and Uichico eliminated Purefoods and De Ocampo just has to play as he’s been playing in the Finals so far. A few timely hits from Fonacier, Alas, and Ganuelas-Rosser wouldn’t hurt either.

Guiao’s message needs to be reiterated for his team: all hands on deck. Chan is already playing with one badly injured foot, but he knows the pain will go down just a little bit if RoS snags the championship. For all of the rough play of Belga, Quinahan, Ibanes, and Jericho Cruz, the team will have to be more level-headed if they’re going to keep the Tropang Texters in their sights. Chism, Lee, and Almazan will have to summon their Game 6 performances one more time for this franchise to get its second PBA title in history.

There promises to be no shortage in drama for this seventh game. If the referees can call everything down the line and the best players heed the call, we’re in for a classic.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.