IT’S a wide open race as the 2016 Philippine Basketball Association Commissioner’s Cup reaches the homestretch of its elimination round.
While the All-Filipino seemed destined to be a battle of giants between the San Miguel Beermen and the Alaska Aces, the imports this conference have ensured a more competitive and more exciting action.
Leading the standings are the Meralco Bolts (6-2), San Miguel Beer (5-2) and Alaska (5-3). Trailing closely are the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters (5-4), the Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters (5-4) Barangay Ginebra San Miguel (5-4) and the NLEX Road Warriors (5-4).
Bringing up the rear are the Mahindra Enforcers (4-4), the Star Hotshots (4-5), the Phoenix Petroleum Fuel Masters (3-6), the Blackwater Elite (3-7) and the GlobalPort Batang Pier (2-7).
It’s going to be a wild and wooly finish as the teams battle it out in the remaining two weeks of the elimination round.
The leading squads are scrambling for the top two spots. The format rewards the top two teams after the elimination with a twice-to-beat advantage in the quarterfinals. With less than two weeks left in the elimination round seven teams: Meralco, San Miguel Beer, Alaska, Rain or Shine, Talk N Text, Ginebra and NLEX are still in the running to gain the incentive.
Early on Meralco, San Miguel Beer and Alaska seemed to have gained separation from the other teams. But shock losses put a damper on their bids.
In particular Alaska has stumbled badly and needs to make up ground in order to stay on top. The Aces could not contain the deadly outside shooting of the Mahindra Enforcers to lose 94-102 in the 2016 Philippine Basketball Association Commissioner’s Cup March 21.
The Enforcers stole a page from the Alaska playbook as they tightened their defense, ran on offense and ripped the net to shreds with their outside shooting to make a decisive surge in the fourth period to beat the Aces at their own game.
Mahindra forward Aldrech Ramos played a career game against former team Alaska. The lanky gunner scored from three-point distance, drover through the lane and even grabbed rebounds to power Mahindra to the surprise victory.
While the Aces faltered the Elasto Painters and the Road Warriors scored critical victories Friday, April 1 which injected new life into their playoffs bid.
The Elasto Painters benefitted from a controversial finish to beat Phoenix Petroleum, 109-104.
Import Mo Charlo scored on a go-ahead lay-up with 32.1 seconds left to give Rain or Shine the lead, 105-104. A tumultuous finish then followed.
Phoenix thought they gained the upper hand after import Kevinn Pinkney countered with a lay-up of his own with 17.9 seconds. The Fuel Masters erupted into a short-lived celebration.
PBA referees made an April Fools Day decision as they nullified Pinkney’s basket because of offensive interference. Pinkney touched the net while the ball was still bouncing above the rim. How touching the net helped the ball go into the rim, only the referees know.
With the basket waved off and possession going to Rain or Shine, Phoenix was forced to foul Jeff Chan who calmly sank two free throws to stretch the Rain or Shine lead to three, 107-104.
The Fuel Masters went to Pinkney again but he missed a three-pointer, forcing the Fuel Masters to foul the Painters again. Raymund Almazan converted two more free throws in the dying seconds to finalize the count for Rain or Shine.
Later that night, NLEX also scored a decisive victory to stay in the hunt. The Road Warriors spoiled the return of GlobalPort’s dynamic duo—Terrence Romeo and Stanley Pringle—by scoring a 110-105 victory which allowed NLEX to move closer to a playoff berth.
Terrence Romeo, who came back from injury along with Stanley Pringle, caught fire as he drilled eight three-pointers. But it wasn’t enough after NLEX proved steadier to post the hard-earned victory.
NLEX import Al Thornton again proved to be the big difference as he scored 33 points, grabbed 19 rebounds, issued six assists and tallied two blocks. Locals Sean Anthony and Kevin Alas provided the needed support as the Road Warriors formally eliminated the Batang Pier from playoff contention.
NLEX relied on their defense to make crucial stops which they translated into points at the other end. Road Warriors snapped a 95-all deadlock by scoring seven straight points. Thornton capped the run with a basket of his own as the Road Warriors subdued the Batang Pier.
The PBA format this conference will eliminate four teams with eight squads advancing to the quarterfinals. Competition is so stiff that five squads – Mahindra, Star, Phoenix, Blackwater and GlobalPort—are all scrambling to avoid being eliminated. The games are so close and the race so tight that even the last place squad GlobalPort—the only team eliminated so far—is competitive.
Yes, the 2016 PBA Commissioner’s Cup is in for a wild and wooly finish.
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