Just two weeks since the start of the conference and we’re already almost halfway through the elimination round. In that short time, there have been some headline-worthy events. So let’s recap a few of those highlights (and lowlights) so far in the 2019 Commissioner’s Cup.
The Elite Ray Parks, Jr.
Let’s start off with one of the two biggest stories so far: Ray Parks, Jr. After skipping the Philippine Cup due to commitments with Alab Pilipinas in the ABL and numerous rumors about suiting up for other teams, he finally made his much-awaited debut with the Blackwater Elite. He struggled a bit needing 19 shots to get to 20 points and turning the ball over 8 times. He fared a bit better against Columbian Dyip until he had probably his breakout game against Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, scoring 28 points, guarding Justin Brownlee and helping his team come out with a 108-107 overtime victory. He punctuated his run with a career-high 29 points against the NLEX Road Warriors. Whether you believe in the hype or have questions about his fire, you can’t deny that his effect on Blackwater has been tremendous and a big reason why they’re enjoying this hot streak.
Speaking of Blackwater, a conference after trading away key pieces in JP Erram, John Pinto and Paul Zamar, they find themselves on the top of the standings again. And it’s not just the Parks effect either. Mac Belo looks to have regained his pre-injury form being a force on both ends. They also made probably the perfect import choice in Alex Stepheson, who is thriving as a defender and rebounder. He doesn’t have to force his offense so much with Parks, Belo and Allain Maliksi handling scoring duties. They’re looking like this conference’s Phoenix Fuel Masters. But of course, the hope is they don’t blow it up at the end of the season like before. Only time will tell. Fans will just have to enjoy while they can.
Career Nights for Everyone
All eyes have been on Parks, with obvious reason, but there have been a couple of young guns posting career numbers as well.
Fellow rookie CJ Perez went on a scoring tear against NLEX on June 1, missing just 5 shots and making 7 of his 8 threes en route to 39 points. He was on such a hot streak that he already had 30 by the third quarter. After a strong Philippine Cup, he’s still not done trying to prove why he deserved to be picked number one. His team is down 1-3 in the standings so he’ll probably need to do a bit more heavy lifting to sneak into the playoffs.
Sophomore Rey Nambatac also had himself a game against Ginebra on June 7, tallying a career-best 30 points including 7/11 from deep (notice the theme here). He helped his team turn a close game into a 23 point rout by the final buzzer. He struggled to find playing his rookie season but it looks like he managed to carve himself a spot in coach Caloy Garcia’s starting lineup.
Lastly, Von Pessumal figured in not only a career night but a record-breaking one as well. He finished with a career-high 24 points and broke the record for most threes in a game without a miss, hitting all 8 of his attempts (the previous record was 6, done by 8 different players). He’s struggled to get some consistency throughout his tenure with the San Miguel Beermen, this might just be the type of game he needs to figure it out.
Now we come to the lowlights. If Blackwater was the hottest team in the league, then NLEX is definitely the coldest. After coming away as winners with the Erram trade, they had a disappointing Philippine Cup performance and now a 0-5 record at the bottom. Things just haven’t come together for them as a team. They look like a mess and a mishmash of talent on the floor, the injury to Kevin Alas and ban on Kiefer Ravena certainly don’t help.
Adding insult to injury is Congress approving the renaming of NLEX to Marcelo H. del Pilar Expressway. They’ve already come and said they hope to stick to being called the NLEX team, and with good reason. Let’s just say “MHDPEX Road Warriors” doesn’t roll off the tongue as well.
Not even a week after the Philippine Cup finals, the Commissioner’s Cup already had its opening weekend. The fact that those that finals reached a game 7 with every single game a grueling one makes matters worse. Not only did fans not have enough time to savor and reflect over that series, but the teams themselves only had about 2 weeks to both rest AND prepare. Hence, San Miguel and the Magnolia Hotshots have a combined 0-3 record, with all three losses by double digits. Heck, even semifinalists Phoenix and Rain Or Shine Elastopainters are feeling the effects with a combined 3-5 record in the middle of the standings.
It’s definitely a topic for a separate article but it’s most likely the PBA’s way to create more time for Gilas Pilipinas to prepare for the World Cup. As it stands though, it probably won’t be enough especially a whole conference still to go. *shrug*
The Beast Caged?
And finally, the biggest story so far (unfortunately) and the biggest lowlight of the conference: Calvin Abueva. I think we’re all used to his antics by now but he took it to another level 2 weekends ago. He started it off in Phoenix’s win against Blackwater on May 31. After fouling out late in the fourth quarter, he apparently made obscene gestures at Maika Rivera, Parks’ girlfriend. Abueva and team management would later claim that Rivera started it by talking trash and calling him a racial slur. As to be expected, they all had a little back-and-forth through the media.
Abueva didn’t stop there though as he figured in another skirmish against TNT, in a game that featured numerous fines, technicals, and ejections. It ended up a blowout in TNT’s favor but Abueva wanted to have the last laugh so to speak. After an apparent low blow (still up for debate) by Terrence Jones went uncalled, he decided to blindside the import with a clothesline on the next play. He proceeded to dance on the sidelines as officials and players tried to contain Jones’ fury. Suffice to say, it didn’t look like any of the Phoenix staff were amused and he was thrown out.
Social media was up in flames about what penalties he should suffer and who was really at fault. In the end, the PBA slapped him with a fine and an indefinite suspension. It might have been their way of saying “we’ve had enough.” He definitely went way, way too far this time around. It’s unfortunate given his talent level and how he helped lead Phoenix to the semis last conference. Now with the Fuel Masters losing two straight after his suspension, he might’ve just contributed to their downfall. The hope is that he changes after this, but only time will tell.