Petron slams TNT’s Grand Slam

The Japanese poet Kenji Mijazawa once wrote: “We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.” Figuratively, this was true for Talk N Text as Petron “burned them with their fuel.”

What a PBA finale! The drama started in Game One. The Talk N Text Tropang Texters, winners of the first two PBA conference finals, aimed to win the third and final leg. This victory would have given them a rare ‘Grand Slam.’ In the 36-year history of the oldest professional basketball league in Asia—the PBA—only Crispa, San Miguel, and Alaska have achieved a Grand Slam.

Talk N Text attempted. In Game 1, they won—and lost! Leading by a score of 84-75 with 5:11 left, the Texters also led by one point with three seconds left. But two-time MVP Danny Ildefonso calmly sank a 12-footer to win that crucial Game 1 for Petron. Score: 89-88.

Since that game two weeks ago, the PBA Governors Cup Finals has been a yo-yo, roller-coaster-ride-like series. TNT tied the contest, 1-all. They led 2-1. They trailed 2-3. Then, they equalized at 3-all.

Last Sunday, I watched Game 7. When I switched on the TV set, Petron led at the end of the first quarter, 28-17. They would not relinquish that lead. Even with Jimmy Alapag, the league MVP, dribbling the ball as point guard, the Tropang Texters trailed all the way. Even with MVP—that’s Manny V. Pangilinan—cheering from the bleachers, it wasn’t to be. Even with Monico Puentevella, the POC chairman, seated beside Mr. Pangilinan, history was not meant to be celebrated two nights ago.

Petron, fueled by a blaze, put a brake on TNT. Petron won Game 7, 85-73.

No loss is painless but this was excruciatingly painful for Talk N Text for several reasons. One, the rare Grand Slam bid was crushed. Two, they were expected to win. In the semifinal round, reports say that TNT purposely lost in one game to avoid a Final showdown with the Barangay Ginebra Kings. “Pinagbigyan nila kami at nagkamali sila,” said Ato Agustin, Petron’s head coach. Third, Petron had plenty of injured players: Jay Washington, Lordy Tugade, Rookie of the Year Rabeh Al-Hussaini, and Joseph Yeo.

The pressure, possibly, was too much for the Texters. Trailing in the 4th quarter but with plenty of time left, they hurriedly threw 3-point desperation shots. They were jittery, intimidated, startled. They panicked. I guess this was to be expected: when a year-long Grand Slam bid trickles down to the last few minutes, one plays petrified.

Petron? Petrified? No. The Blaze Boosters were relaxed and loose. They played to win—while TNT played not to lose. Petron’s import, Anthony Grundy, was dazzling. He top-scored with 26 points (after scoring just five in Game 6). But the best player was Mark Magsumbol. I mean… Arwind Santos, who looks like Mark Magsumbol. He scored 16 points. To top that, he rebounded 16 times! Imagine… 16 rebounds in one game. With 37 seconds left in the game, he even slammed the ball with two hands. That slam extinguished the Grand Slam dreams of TNT and MVP.

Why was this Petron team no lightweight compared to the heavyweight, TNT? It’s because this team’s DNA is spelled S-A-N  M-I-G-U-E-L. Yes. Starting only this season, San Miguel Beer relinquished its name (for the first time in PBA history) and gave way to the fuel company they own.

Good move. And so, while this was a “first” for the rookie Petron, this was also the 19th championship of the team owned by Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, Jr. You can also conclude that, in a battle between sports titans (MVP v. Boss Danding), the older, more experienced sportsman won.

Ato Agustin is the happiest Filipino today. He scored one of the league’s all-time biggest upsets—and did it as a rookie PBA coach.

Above all, the biggest winners are the basketball fans. I, myself, admit to not watching closely the PBA. But with this series, I followed. It was a contrast in coaches, team owners, imports; an intriguing Grand Slam Quest versus Underdog’s Upset Try contest. In the end, between gasoline or SMS, fuel wins.

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