MANILA, Philippines – If there is one guy who can guarantee that Marc Pingris would play against all odds in the all-important Game Five, it should be James Yap.
Yap and Pingris have come a long way from being the second and third overall pick of the 2004 PBA Rookie Class to winning championships together.
“Ipagdasal natin si Ping, kasi importante siya sa team. Alam ko si Ping as tough guy eh. I’m sure makakabalik si Ping kasi gustong-gusto niya maglaro eh,” said Yap of Pingris, whose status remained uncertain on the eve of Game Five.
Pingris sustained an abrasion in his right eye after it was accidentally poked by Rain or Shine burly center JR Quinahan in a rebound battle with 4:59 left in the third quarter of Game Four.
San Mig team physician Raffy Sanchez guaranteed after Game Four that Pingris’ eye injury would heal in 24 hours. But with the Mixers' top forward skipping Saturday’s practice and reportedly complaining of problems with his vision, Pingris turned from a projected starter to a probable late scratch.
It took some time for the Mixers to recover after they lost Pingris, their defensive anchor and source of energy, in Game Four.
“Si Ping yung talagang special defender namin. So kung wala si Ping, sa depensa ako magfo-focus ng lakas. Yung opensa given naman yun eh. Hindi ko naman hinahanap, pag nabigyan ng open looks saka lang ako titira,” San Mig point guard Mark Barroca said.
Without Pingris, the more pressure for rookie big man Ian Sangalang to deliver anew. Sangalang had scored in double figures in the last three games, which the Mixers won. In Game Four, he stepped up big time in Pingris’ absence in the second half to finish with a career-high 17 points and eight boards.
“Si Ian nandiyan naman lagi yan. Dito sa Finals ang ganda ng nilalaro niya. Nandiyan naman sila Rafi (Reavis), Joe (Devance) so lalaban pa rin naman,” Barroca said.
The crack guard has goaded his backcourt mate and chief back-up Alex Mallari to step up his game to sustain San Mig’s energy on defense if Pingris will not be able to play.
“Ang crucial diyan si Alex (Mallari) kasi switching kami sa depensa so kailangang mag-step-up siya para mapunuan yung mawawala sa depensa namin,” Barroca said.
But Pingris, as Yap described, is too proud to be a warrior sitting out the game that could clinch them a back-to-back championship.