Make no bones about it, it’s a statement win by the Alaska Aces over Talk ‘n Text
by rick olivares pic by nuki sabio
Two things struck me about how the Alaska Aces dismantled the Talk ‘n Text Texters in a thorough butt kicking.
The first thing was in the execution and team play. A day before the Alaska-Talk ‘n Text game, the Aces were put through their paces one final time. Head coach Luigi Trillo made no bones about the intention of the game where a win over the long time champions/contenders would say something about their title ambitions. In his pre-practice talk, he strongly reminded his team that to beat the Tropang Texters, they had to play on both ends of the court for the full 48 minutes. “They have proven themselves capable of coming back from big leads,” underscored Trillo. “Do not give them a chance to get their bearings.”
In one of their drills, he had Raphy Reyes playing like Tropang Texter guard Jimmy Alapag all the way to his long distance attempts. At one point, Reyes hit several long toms prompting rookie forward Calvin Abueva to say aloud: “Magtira ka para bukas, ha.”
Reyes got off the bench late in the game and never fired a shot. He didn’t need to as the rest of the Aces found the range early in a spectacular shooting display and a smothering blanketing defense to put away TNT, 92-69.
The Aces hit more than 40% of their shots in every quarter. But it was in the third period where they buried baskets at a 63.2% accuracy rate. What makes Alaska even more difficult to defend is that their big men all have outside shots – Sonny Thoss, Tony De La Cruz, Gabby Espinas, Calvin Abueva, and Aldrech Ramos. Abueva and Ramos can even hit it from three-point range.
After Jason Castro’s near halfcourt heave that brought the score down to 45-39, Alaska opened the third quarter with a 14-1 blitz before a Rabeh Al-Hussaini jumper gave them their first of their only two field goals of the quarter. The score before Al-Hussaini’s bucket was 59-40. It was the second time that Alaska had put up a huge double-digit margin in the match.
The second thing was during the pre-game practice, Abueva was guarding Tony del Cruz aka “Jared Dillinger” as he was at times made to mimic what the quick TNT forward would do during matches. During a momentary lull in which Trillo would explain about screens and cuts for options on their offense, Abueva playfully pushed De La Cruz not once, not twice, but thrice. A few months ago, this never happened.
De La Cruz has long been the face and icon of this club. The minutes have gone down for De La Cruz but his contributions on and off the court remain valuable with his on court intelligence, one of his primary weapons.
Abueva’s horsing around meant the literal and figurative changing of the guard within the team and the league. If you looked at it in the latter terms, Abueva’s pushing was like knocking on the PBA order (read: Talk ‘n Text dominance) and saying, “Here we are. Entertain us.”
During the game, Abueva made mincemeat out of everyone who guarded him. From an odd-angle bank shot to a trey.
The memory of the Philippine Cup semifinals ouster to the Tropang Texters remains raw. Alaska realizes that to be the best, you have to beat the best.
While Alaska shot the lights out, Talk ‘n Text also had problems of their own. In their very first possession, they lost the ball to De La Cruz. Even on open layups they would miss (see Jason Castro and Jimmy Alapag on a two-on-one fastbreak). There was a stretch in the second quarter where they held Alaska scoreless for several minutes with great defense but still they couldn’t score even from open shots.
Trillo realized this and made mention of it in his post-game comments where he said not everything can be attributed to his team’s defense but also TNT’s anemic performance. Whether it’s still a championship hangover or a case of a team struggling, the Aces will take it. And right now, being 5-0 isn’t so bad at all.