The bigger they are, the harder they fall.
Coming off a dismal campaign in the All Filipino Cup, the whole Petroniverse thought that their team was on the verge of exorcising the demons of their troubled past in this import-laden conference.
For a stretch of six games, the thought seemed to be a possibility. With ex-Knick Renaldo Balkman leading the charge, Petron was able to string up five impressive wins that catapulted them to the top of the standings in the early part of the conference.
For a while, optimism surrounded the team that has its hands full of negativity from the past conferences. All along, everyone thought that Petronovela finally got its happy ending. Lo and behold, one dark incident changed everything. In an intense match against Alaska last March 8, Renaldo Balkman, the Blaze Boosters’ glue guy and the man responsible for leading their uprising, lost his cool at the end game and choked teammate Arwind Santos after struggling all night. A broken record it may sound, but that put an end to a wonderful run for them.
From sharing the leadership at the start with a 5-2 record, Petron looked disoriented and with the import changes after Balkman got a lifetime ban, they lost four out of their last seven games in the eliminations and wounded up at the third place with an 8-6 slate. The agony continued as they were pitted against arch rivals Talk N Text in the quarterfinals where they were swept in two games en route to their early vacation.
This turbulent campaign for Petron has had its share of positives and negatives.
More than the stats, Petron found some bright spots during this conference. Marcio Lassiter, who suffered from injuries in his early stint with the team, emerged as their primary gunner as he averaged 13.6 points, 3.2 boards, 2.9 assists and shot 47% from the rainbow territory. Aside from the Fil-Am guard, another key weapon for the team made his presence felt down low – their prized rookie, the 6-foot-10 Pinamungahan. Cebu native June Mar Fajardo showed his continuous improvement as he stepped his game up a notch higher and chalked up averages of 10.4 points and 6.9 caroms in 16 games with a 50% shooting from the perimeter. One positive note in this forgetful campaign for Petron is Olsen’s NO SUPERSTAR MENTALITY. When Cabagnot, Santos and Washington, the team’s star trio, struggled, he never hesitated on benching them and instead gambled on giving Miranda, Tubid and Lanete more minutes.
But this conference is highlighted more by all the wrongs than the right ones, painful as it may seem but that is the reality. Their fall from top to bottom was caused by the Balkman meltdown. Let’s face it, Balkman was the best import in this conference until the incident. With averages of 25 points, 13.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 2 steals and 2.7 blocks in his seven-game stint with the team, the void that he left was just too big to fill in. Rodney White, the former Barako Bull import who replaced Balkman, was just a shell of his old self while Henry Sims, Petron’s third and last import this conference was just too far from the quality of Balkman’s game.
Another notable factor that added up to the struggles of this team were the inconsistencies of some of their key players led by their three co-team captains – Alex Cabagnot, Arwind Santos and Jay Washington. The three stars were so inconsistent all conference-long and it seemed like they were not up to the challenge of stepping up when it mattered most. In the aftermath of Balkman being sent home, the responsibilities among them to lead and stabilize the team got bigger but they never showed up. It seemed that they’re only willing to bring their a-game when wanted to and it did not help their team.
The injury of Danny Ildefonso also didn’t help Petron as their hunt for a leader on the court continues. This team, known for having great leaders in the past, looked lost during the clutch moments of tight games. Cabagnot, who was considered as the team’s court general, often tend to his “hero ball mode” that cost the team too much. A vocal leader that will keep things in order despite the pressure at the end game was another factor that weighed heavily for the Blaze Boosters’ downfall.
Most Valuable Players: Marcio Lassiter and June Mar Fajardo
With their three co-team captain playing inconsistently all conference-long, Marcio Lassiter and June Mar Fajardo took charge and brought their game to a higher level. Although playing while still hurt, Lassiter, the former Gilas standout, displayed his old deadly form and became the team’s go-to guy. On the other hand, the 23-year old Fajardo showed a more improved game – a testament to the extra work he puts in practice with mentor Danny Ildefonso. The University of Cebu stalwart managed to keep in step against tall imports and even outplayed Talk N Text’s Jerome Jordan in the quarterfinals. These two players, healthy and all, will be the team’s biggest assets. All they need is for their teammates, especially the stars, to step up and play within the system.
Least Valuable Players: Alex Cabagnot and Jay Washington
Alex Cabagnot could have been in the “top point guards of the league” debate if he played like he used to. But in the last two conferences, including the All Filipino Cup, the southpaw has been inconsistent and became a black hole in the team, often tending to hug the ball during critical moments of the game. Taking the role of a leader was what’s expected from him but he failed to fill in the shoes of the team’s stabilizer. Meanwhile, Jay Washington, who played well at the start of the conference, played miserably since his return from an injury that laid him off for a season. Aging and all, the two-time Best Player of the Conference awardee is struggling to find his old form and instead of accepting the fact that he needs to be one of the role players of the team, he complains too much of having little playing time which was highlighted when they got eliminated in the quarters.
With two disappointing conferences this season, Petron needs to step up and take their game to a higher level in this coming Governor’s Cup. They have to live up to the expectations and finally put an end to this dragging thing called “Petronovela.” They need to put a happy ending to this chapter and play like the PBA’s most successful franchise. But to be able to do that, what would they need to do during the conference break? Let’s point out some factors that will highlight Petron’s needs for the coming conference.
- A battle-tested reinforcement – Having an import who has gone through all kinds of situations and credentials seemed to be effective for Petron as the locals responded well along with Renaldo Balkman. Be it a point guard or a power forward, Petron’s import should possess the leadership and court savvy that Balkman has, not the volatile attitude. They would need someone who can keep the team together even when things are falling apart, a glue guy, a leader, the voice that will stabilize everyone.
- More of June Mar and Marcio – It is obvious that these two players will be the team’s biggest weapons in years to come and it should be right to give them the touches and opportunities they need to get their game going. More plays should be designed for June Mar to develop his post game even more.
- A better player to man the starting point guard spot – Alex Cabagnot has become a headache for the team and in lieu of his inconsistency, Denok Miranda stepped up and was given more minutes by Olsen. Should Denok be given more minutes and be the team’s primary point guard? Yes, because Denok shows more toughness and leadership on the court. Should they make a trade for a better point guard to help Denok? Yes, enough said
After all is said and done, the troubled past keeps haunting Petron. From hopes of putting all the negativity to rest and entering a new chapter of success, all went to naught after a bad incident. And after all is said and done, this conference is the one that got away from Petron’s hands.
See more posts from this series
- Retribution On-Hold: The Rain or Shine 2013 Commissioner’s Cup Review
- Never Say Never: The Barangay Ginebra San Miguel 2013 Commissioner’s Cup Review
- Roller-coaster conference: The San Miguel Coffee Mixers 2013 Commissioner’s Cup Review
- The One That Got Away: The Petron Blaze Boosters 2013 Commissioner’s Cup Review
- Heart of a Champion: The Alaska Aces 2013 Commissioner’s Cup Conference Review
- Four Blind Mice: The Talk ‘n Text Tropang Texters 2013 Commissioner’s Cup Review