STAR Hotshots‘ fate in the next round depended on the result of the game before their encounter with Blackwater; the game between the Alaska Aces and the GlobalPort Batang Pier. For the Hotshots to land in fourth place with a twice-to-beat advantage in the quarterfinals, they just needed Alaska to win the game. However, Alaska decided to rest some of its starters and import (really can’t blame Coach Alex Compton for doing this). Despite doing this, they had a chance to win the game against GlobalPort. Unfortunately for the Hotshots, the Batang Pier ran away with the win in OT, 117-104.
The result was unexpected as Alaska was the number 1 team right now. With that Alaska loss, STAR gained a twice-to-beat disadvantage against in the next round no matter what happens in their game against Blackwater. They were already half expecting to be handed out an advantage for the next round only to be denied at the last few minutes. Sayang. It was quite a let down and it definitely affected STAR’s mental focus and energy against the Elite.
It wasn’t obvious in the first few minutes of the game as they were executing quite well both on offense and on defense. But as the game progressed, their “patient” approach to the game got exposed. They weren’t really patient. They played with no fire, no energy, and they were just going through the motions. It wasn’t the kind of basketball they were able to showcase in their previous two wins. Blackwater was able to frustrate them by hitting their outside shots and scoring in transition with ease. At the end of the first half, it was the Elite with the lead, 46-39; outscoring the Hotshots in both the 1st and 2nd quarters, 21-19 and 25-20 respectively. Blackwater even led by as much as 11 in the 1st half.
It was easy to predict what Coach Tim said to the guys at the half. Maybe it included something along the lines of “If you lose this game, we’ll be going up against SMB and we need to win twice“, maybe not. But for sure, Coach Tim reminded his boys to forget that Alaska-GlobalPort game and just focus at the task at hand and play with a sense of urgency.
And the Hotshots responded with a huge turn-around in the second half. First they played better defense. They had 10 steals compared only to 3 for the Elite and these steals resulted into fast break points (and dunks) (17-6 advantage in terms of fast break points). Also, they moved the ball better, finding the gaps in Blackwater’s defense (23 assists for STAR; 13 assists for BWE). The second half went on like this: it starts with a defensive stop, a steal or a rebound and then an easy transition play or a beautiful execution of the triangle. As a result, the Hotshots eventually got the lead and went on to win the game, 87-82.
To Blackwater’s credit, they were able to stay in the game despite STAR’s second half outburst; as much as STAR wanted to win the game to get that fifth seed, Blackwater also wanted to end their dismal season with a win. It was a good fight for the Elite but in the end, it was the Hotshots that came away with the victory. It was one of those ugly wins for the team, but it’s better than a loss and a date with SMB.
Six players were able to score for STAR but in my opinion, it was Marqus Blakely‘s efforts that proved to be the difference in this game. Once again, “Mr. Everything” showed the league why he has that moniker. He finished the game with a monster stat line of 22 points, 16 rebounds, 5 assists, 7 steals, and 4 blocks! That’s one block away from a quintuple single (at least 5)! Aside from the F1 he picked up in the first half, it was a great game for Blakely. He was the one that led STAR’s transition attack in the second half and was the one that frustrated Blackwater’s offense with his timely steals and out-of-this-world chase-down blocks. When the game’s on the line, the Hotshots are lucky to have Blakely by their side to save the day.
In my pre-game primer, it was mentioned that the only thing that could prevent a win for STAR is themselves. True enough, they almost lost this one when they lost focus at the task hand. But for me, they kind of needed this game entering the next round. In their previous games, they had their way against TNT and Barako. This Blackwater game just made them realize that even if they’ve raised their level of play, they can still be beaten. It was like a wake-up call that came at the right time, just as the playoffs is about to begin. I really hope STAR learned their lesson moving forward as they don’t have room for any errors if they want to continue the road to defending their Governor’s Cup crown.
Interestingly, waiting for them in the quarterfinals are the Batang Pier. With a monster import in Famous and reliable locals in Romeo and Pringle, GlobalPort’s a tough team to beat; more so if you have to do it twice. It will be hard for sure, but not impossible.
Featured Image Credit: Zeke Alonzo, Tie Breaker Times (Edited by: MI.NI Graphics and Design)