Had they lost this game against Talk N’ Text, STAR was in danger of not making it to the next round for the first time under the leadership of Coach Tim Cone. Early in the game, it looked like they were really on their way out. It wasn’t a good sight as the Tropang Texters were able to torch them, especially that guy named Larry Fonacier. There was even a point in the first quarter wherein it was 21-9 — with Larry outscoring STAR, 10-9. It was that bad.
Good thing for the Hotshots was they were able to get a hold of themselves and recovered just in time. Lead by the effort of Marqus Blakely (who was very eager to bounce back after a lackluster game against ROS, more on him later), the Hotshots were able to catch up with the Tropang Texters. As a matter of fact, they even got a one-point lead at the end of the 1st half, 45-44.
At the half, Coach Tim made some adjustments and STAR never looked back. They went on a tear in the 2nd half that surprised not only TNT but everybody watching the game as well. It was expected to be a back-and-forth, tight affair but it was far from it in the 2nd half. STAR was able to score 28 points in the 3rd and were able to add 32 more points in the 4th quarter. It was the first time they reached the century mark this conference as their offense was just sizzling hot (Like sisig – Apologies for this one, maybe I’m just hungry. Haha!) and TNT was not able to prepare for it. The Hotshots (4-5) were able to come up with this crucial win against the Tropang Texters (4-6), 105-93, switching places in the team standings.
As said earlier, Marqus Blakely was raring to bounce back. Against Rain or Shine, he wasn’t his usual self. Parang kinulang sa kain. But in this game, it looks like he just came from Vikings or some buffet with the energy he displayed (Ok, enough with these food references. Last na ‘to. Haha!). He was back to being “Mr. Everything” for the Hotshots. He was able to find the gaps on TNT’s offense as he finished with 26 points (10/16 FG). TNT had a difficult time finding a way to stop his inside incursions, most especially his drop step inside the shaded area . Aside from his valuable contributions on offense, he did his very best covering up for his teammates in terms of rebounding. STAR lost the battle of the boards only by 7, thanks to Blakely’s 16 boards, accounting for 45% of their total. Blakely also added 5 assists across his name. In terms of defense, he also led the Hotshots with 2 steals and a game-high 6 blocks.
During the first half of play I tweeted that Marqus Blakely was doing a “LeBron.” He was carrying STAR as much as he could like LBJ would carry his Cavs in the NBA Finals as his teammates were under-performing. I guess someway, somehow, they realized what was happenning as the rest of the Hotshots came out firing in the 2nd half especially the guys off the bench.
TNT’s starters actually dominated their counterparts with 4 of them scoring in double digits (RDO: 21, Fonacier: 20, Pettigrew: 18, Castro:17). However, it was the Hotshots’ bench that killed them; STAR’s bench outscored TNT’s bench, 42-17. With Marqus playing well, this bench production made the Hotshots a deadlier team. PJ Simon finally woke up from his deep slumber to lead Coach Tim’s shock troopers. He was chosen as the “Best Player of the Game” in his breakout game this conference as he finished with 15 points (6/8 from the field) and added 3 rebounds and an assist as well. It felt good to finally see PJ Simon play well as it’s been a long time since he’s had a good shooting night such as this one. Another guy that played well was the irregularly-used Justin Melton. Against TNT, Coach Tim went small as James Yap struggled all night and Melton absorbed his minutes. Coach Tim’s gamble paid off as the “Quickmelt” dished out his best game of the conference: 16 points (2/4 from 3-point range), 4 rebounds, 1 assist in 27 minutes of action. You see, you won’t go wrong with giving Justin some minutes. In my opinion, STAR should ride him as long as James Yap isn’t fully healthy.
All the talk after the game was centered on PJ Simon and Justin Melton but in my opinion, the real STAR of the night was Joe Devance. JDV continued his stellar play off the bench and had 19 points on a perfect 4 of 4 from deep. His steady shooting from the outside was a huge factor especially in the 4th quarter wherein TNT tried to mount a comeback.
By the numbers, STAR rightfully deserved to win this match-up because they were able to win three of the four winning factors: shooting, turnovers, and free throws. It’s interesting that they managed to edge TNT in these categories because prior to this match, pitting both teams head-to-head, STAR was at a disadvantage. In this game however, they had the upper hand. They shot better: 56.5% > 44.6%, had fewer turnovers: 10 < 14, and attempted more free throws (with a high percentage at that): 20 FTA (90.9%) > 13 FTA (69.2%). As said earlier, they were out-rebounded by a smaller TNT squad. The Tropang Texters were able to carve out 20 extra possessions compared to STAR’s 9 for an 11-point edge in terms of 2nd chance points. Good thing for STAR, this disadvantage was compensated by the other three factors.
All in all, it was a great win for the Hotshots coming into their last two games of the elimination round. With this win, they have increased their chances of making the next round. What remains in their schedule is a top but skidding Barako team and an already eliminated squad in Blackwater. Relatively, these games should be easy but this isn’t the time for STAR to relax and get their put off the pedal. What they need to do is to use these two games as a springboard to what looks like another grueling playoff-run. Knowing Coach Tim Cone, this is just the thing he wants his boys to do.
Featured Image Credit: Zeke Alonzo, Tie Breaker Times (Edited by: MI.NI Graphics and Design)