MANILA, NOVEMBER 19, 2003  (STAR) SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin M. Henson - Two do-or-die games are scheduled in today’s Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Reinforced Conference quarterfinals doubleheader at the PhilSports Arena. Four teams are out to score a knockout as devastating as Manny Pacquiao’s demolition of Marco Antonio Barrera in San Antonio last Saturday. But only two will survive the clash of the titans.

At stake are two semifinal slots in Group B. The winners of both games advance to slug it out in a best-of-5 series. And the survivor goes on to play Group A’s topnotcher in a best-of-7 duel for the championship.

Red Bull plays Talk ‘N’ Text in the opening tiff while Coca-Cola takes on Barangay Ginebra in the nightcap. Fans are expected to pack the building in anticipation of a war reminiscent of Saturday’s brawl at the Alamodome.

Because there’s no tomorrow for the loser, the teams will let it all hang out. They’ll give it all they’ve got.

The Phone Pals drew first blood via a 120-116 decision over the Barakos last Nov. 9. That snapped Red Bull’s 10-game win streak and brought import Scott Burrell down to earth. Burrell, a Michael Jordan teammate on the 1998 National Basketball Association title squad, hadn’t tasted a loss since arriving to replace Ramel Lloyd.

Coach Joel Banal worked his magic like a charm as six players scored in double figures. Diminutive Jimmy Alapag stood 10 feet tall as he poured in 28 points and dished off 12 assists in a spectacular 42-minute performance. Damien Cantrell, Asi Taulava, Bong Ravena, Harvey Carey and Vic Pablo were others in twin digits.

Red Bull, the league’s No. 2 defensive team, just couldn’t hold down the Phone Pals who averaged 92.1 points in its seven elimination wins. During the Barakos’ 10-game victory skein, they limited opponents to an average of only 82.1. But in Game 1, Red Bull’s defense sucked as TNT hit a conference-high 120 points.

Worse, Red Bull gave up 55 free throws to

the Phone Pals who converted 33 compared to the Barakos’ 26-of-41 performance. TNT also buried 13 triples to Red Bull’s 10. The Phone Pals outrebounded Red Bull, 50-42, to stamp their authority off the boards despite DaVonn Harp and Mick Pennisi.

But in Game 2, Red Bull turned things around. The Barakos were back in fine defensive form, limiting TNT to 80 points. Alapag was hounded from start to finish, hitting only 2-of-10 field goals, and issued only two assists in 35 minutes. Taulava was also barnacled, sputtering to only 1-of-7 field goals. Cantrell tried to keep the Pals’ hopes alive. Alas, he couldn’t do it alone. Red Bull scored more turnover points, 22-11, to fuel the rout. Willie Miller led the Barakos’ charge with 26 points.

TNT has won only twice in its last eight games but it’s the only team that has beaten Red Bull twice this conference.

For the Phone Pals to bag today’s clincher, Alapag and Taulava must play above par. They’re the combination that makes TNT such an explosive force. Cantrell must also find a way to keep Burrell busy. If Burrell has his hands full trying to contain Cantrell, it’ll take away from his offense and playmaking.

Coach Yeng Guiao’s trump card is his deep bench. He’s got more than enough wide bodies to fluster Taulava straight up at the post, without doubling and opening kickout opportunities. The key is to shackle Alapag because the Mighty Mouse makes things happen for the Phone Pals. Jimwell Torion and Topex (Daredevil) Robinson will take turns banging Alapag for sure.

If Red Bull limits TNT to 85 points or below, the probability is the Barakos will move on to the semis. The secret is not to send the Phone Pals to the line too often unless it’s to stop Taulava from scoring layups. But if the Phone Pals show up in full battle gear and make it a high-scoring affair, Banal might just land the knockout blow.

Ginebra got the jump on Coca-Cola in their series opener as indefatigable Rosell Ellis collected 26 points, 16 rebounds and six assists to lead the Kings to an emphatic 104-94 triumph.

Tee McClary delivered 37 points, 10 rebounds and five assists but appeared to be at odds with coach Chot Reyes down the stretch. Fans near the Tigers bench overheard a shouting match that reverberated to the upper stands.

The Kings feed off Ellis’ energy but they’ve got to play as a team to pull the rug from under Coca-Cola, looking for its first title this year after a pair of bridesmaid finishes. In Game 1, Ginebra had more assists, 27-20, and rebounds, 55-40. The Kings also outshot the Tigers, 46.6 to 44.3 percent from the floor.

In Game 2, it looked like Reyes and McClary were back in each other’s arms as Coca-Cola stuck it to Ginebra hard, 85-77. Ellis self-destructed as he shot only 2-of-10 free throws. Jun Limpot and Eric Menk combined to hit a lowly 3-of-20–neither shot in double figures. Romel Adducul was a bright spot for the Kings as he netted a PBA career-high 20 points and plucked eight boards in 34 minutes. Playing more cohesively as a unit, the Tigers had more assists, 26-18, and shot 45.8 percent to Ginebra’s 39.2 from the field. McClary was not as productive on the scoring end with 23 points but hauled down 17 rebounds and issued seven assists.

For the Tigers to prevail in Game 3, they’ve got to be as ferocious in defense as they were in Game 2. That means Rudy Hatfield, Rob Wainwright, Ato Morano and McClary must work extra hard. Reyes must also get quality minutes from his Alaska connection of Johnny Abarrientos, Poch Juinio, Jeffrey Cariaso and Bong Hawkins.

For the Kings to win, they’ve got to establish tempo, put the clamps on McClary, hit the outside shot, crash the boards relentlessly and attack with the same kind of fury that characterized Ginebra of the Robert Jaworski era.

Two knockouts will be scored in today’s twinbill. In typical Pacquiao style, no doubt.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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