This appears in the PBA website
They’re back & they brought the whole Tropa
by rick olivares pic by nuki sabio
When Talk ‘N Text had to dig deep into its bench and bag of tricks (read: wellspring of experience) to defeat a rapidly improving Air21, 95-91, quite a few observers must have thought, “The Tropang Texters just aren’t the club they were.”
Since winning last season’s Philippine Cup for a third straight year, they’ve gradually been worn out with its commitments to the national team as well as crippling injuries. They just didn’t look like their old deadly selves. Was the dynasty over?
In the meantime, San Mig Coffee has been carving out one on its own as they won two consecutive conference titles signifying a possible power shift in the league. Could any team stop the Coffee Mixers? They were always a very good team but behind Tim Cone – they looked unbeatable. Since Cone took over they have won three titles and allowed the American coach to leapfrog past one of the PBA’s most hallowed records that is the most number of PBA titles won that was 15 by the great Baby Dalupan. Now it’s Cone’s and for him to chart and continue to define. The incredible thing about San Mig Coffee’s last title run was they were languishing at the bottom of the standings in the last Philippine Cup and looked to be headed for an early vacation. They got hot and began taking down higher-seeded teams. Now when San Mig gets on a roll, no one can stop them. Not even Rain or Shine that generally plays them well. And so Cone’s wards are once more favorites to annex the Commissioner’s Cup.
Talk ‘N Text in the meantime have reloaded with some new faces getting prominent playing time under Norman Black. That includes veteran Danny Seigle who is experiencing a rebirth with the club and KG Canaleta who is filling in for swingman Jared Dillinger who was moved over to Meralco.
Some of Black’s old college hands from Ateneo have also gotten a new lease on life with Talk ‘N Text and are contributing – Nonoy Baclao, Jai Reyes, and Eric Salamat.
As the conference unfolded, the Tropa began to eke out one victory after another. It didn’t matter how they accomplished it. They won big (by 23 against Meralco) or by the slimmest of margins (by one against GlobalPort). The Tropang Texters were getting the job done and now they’re at a robust and an unlikely 9-0 to sweep the elimination round; a full three games ahead of closest pursuer San Miguel that is at 6-2.
How big a feat is that 9-0 record? The last team to accomplish an elimination round sweep was Presto that went 10-0 in the All-Filipino tournament of 1990. What made that even more impressive was TNT accomplished that without import Richard Howell who sat out the match because of a shoulder injury. Outside the freak injury to Howell, TNT assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga noted that, “Everyone is healthy.”
How good is Black’s team right now?
They’ve got three players in the top ten in terms of points.
Howell is fifth in the league with a 23.1 average. Ranidel De Ocampo has been playing better after battling nagging injuries from the lack of rest. He’s currently eighth in scoring with a 16.5 scoring average. Jayson Castro is tenth with 15.2 points per outing.
On the boards, Howell is continuing to do what he did best while at North Carolina State – lead and haul them down. He’s pacing the league with a 21.1 average.
Talk ‘N Text’s speedy point guard duo of Jimmy Alapag and Castro are also doing their share in ball distribution. Alapag is fourth in the assist column with a 5.7 average while Castro is sixth with 4.1 dimes a match.
If you further want to underscore Howell’s importance, he’s further getting it done on defense by averaging 1.7 steals per game; that’s good for third in this conference. That’s even better than TNT’s acknowledged ball thief in Castro who is ninth in the standings with a 1.1 average.
Added Arespacochaga about Howell: “Richard Howell is a good fit for the team. He defends, rebounds, and scores too. He complements the other members of the team. Everyone has embraced their role from our captain, Jimmy Alapag all the way to our practice players. They want to bounce back from last conference. They are focused and have all bought into what Coach Norman told the team from day one.”
To further illustrate that all-hands-on-deck mentality, several TNT players are crowding the stat sheet chipping in their own contributions.
In three point shooting, they’ve got three players in the top ten with De Ocampo, Larry Fonacier, and Alapag going in order – sixth, seventh, and eighth for a total of 36 triples recorded after seven matches. And Canaleta isn’t even on that list… just yet.
In their last win – that one-point thriller against GlobalPort – the Batang Pier’s Evan Brock missed a free throw with 1.9 seconds left that would have tied the match and sent it to an extension. If Brock and company are botching their freebies from 15 feet away, Talk ‘N Text are making the most of it. The top two best free throw shooters in the league are De Ocampo and Fonacier. Castro and Alapag bring up the ninth and tenth spots in the league.
“Sabi ng iba, hindi na kami gutom,” said Castro after their 85-82 win over Rain or Shine, another squeaker. “Hindi pa kami nagsasawa manalo ng championship. Gusto pa namin.”
And that attitude has brought them back to the top of the league. At least in this elimination phase.
Talk ‘N Text’s record this Commissioner’s Cup elimination round:
92-91 vs. GlobalPort
85-82 vs. Rain or Shine
81-75 vs. San Mig Coffee
94-87 vs. Barangay Ginebra
91-68 vs. Meralco
101-96 vs. Barako Bull Energy Cola
107-99 vs. San Miguel
95-91 vs. Air21