Betting and Blitzing: Game 1 of the Philippine Cup Finals

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“Nothing against Talk N’ Text sir. I just like cheering for the underdog,” the bartender explained.

There was a bet going on in the bar. The waiters and bartenders were watching the TV along with the diners and drinkers. They were taking orders and taking sides. Nothing scandalous – just high fives, silently clenched fists, twists of the body that emulated the moves of JR Castro and Paul Lee, and pats on the back for well-placed bets.

This particular bartender was rooting for Rain or Shine. As the game wound down to the last few seconds, and as Talk N’ Text kept stabbing daggers to finish the game, he quickly became the recipient of sympathy jokes. I tried to comfort him, telling him, “kaya pa yan, pare…” But he knew better. It just wasn’t happening tonight.

Talk N’ Text just ran away with the victory. Almost literally.

At one point in the third quarter, Quinahan was huffing and puffing on the bench. He was one of the many Elasto-Painters whose demeanor revealed their deflation. The big men were wincing and wheezing. Others were slouching. Their body language looked like they were Wile E Coyotes, and a thousand Road Runners were spinning around them.

The Fast Break Points won’t reveal the story entirely, I think. Both teams, after all, like the open court. However, when matched against one another, Rain or Shine’s weakness showed.

Rain Or Shine also tried their best to run at every opportunity. In the open court, Jeff Chan and Paul Lee are amazing finishers, after all. But if you look at the open threes of TnT, you’d find that the rotation of the RoS defense was a step slow. Whether it was the off-ball screens or top-of-the-key pick and rolls, Rain or Shine just couldn’t keep up with the flow and fluidity of the Talk N’ Text guards and wingmen.

And Talk N’ Text didn’t let up. Their system and rotation that had been so ingrained in them since the Chot Reyes era, allowed them to have fresh legs on the floor at any given time. The whole game long, they didn’t skip a beat. You wouldn’t even notice the changing of people.

STRENGTH TO STRENGTH

TnT’s strengths are its athleticism, flow, and flexibility – both as a team (they can go at different speeds and game types), per person on the roster (it’s as if each person can play at least two positions) – and its maturity gained through experience. Rain or Shine’s strength is its physical brand of play (when harnessed well, it yields great results), raw hunger, and unpredictable firepower.

Talk N’ Text was not only able to capitalize on its own strength, but it also took some of Rain or Shine’s. Talk N’ Text was physical. And they were hungry. Despite winning this same conference for the last two years, they looked every bit like the hungrier team. It was passion masterfully controlled.

SPUTTERING

Rain or Shine trailed most of the game. They tried to keep it close at the end, but sputtered out toward the finish line. Attribute it to maturity, composure, lung power, whatever. They just sputtered.

One of the final plays that sealed the game’s was Jeff Chan’s failed attempt to score. He dribbled behind the back – or at least tried to – but the ball was stolen by Dillinger. Dillinger’s defense and versatility earned him the player of the game award. Chan was left breathing heavily, his posture betraying his fatigue.

Before the series, Yeng Guiao was quoted to have been cautious of Talk N’ Text’s athleticism (Source, Philippine Daily Inquirer):

“In terms of size and talent, they’re the same. They’re also a tall team like San Mig and Ginebra, although the difference is that TNT is also a running team,”

He adds:
“They also like the open court, and they also rotate a lot of people because they don’t play extended minutes to their top players. We don’t expect them to tire out and burnout. The match up really is who can withstand the pace and the pressure of the series.”

He was right to expect a furious pace. His players must now know exactly what their coach was talking about. They probably feel it in their quads and lungs.

WAGER ON A COMEBACK

The bartender knew there was no unpredictable firepower left for RoS to unleash that night. He accepted the fate, the incoming loss of Rain or Shine, and his loss of money.

Maybe next game? Yeng Guiao and his indomitable crew, after all, had only begun to fight.

Even I would bet on that.

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