PHONE PALS FINISH OFF THUNDER, MAKE SEMIS

MANILA, NOVEMBER 20, 2003  (STAR) By Nelson Beltran - All-Filipino champion Talk n Text stayed on line for another triumphant conference while sending Red Bull Barako to another shocking exit in the season as the Phone Pals defused the Thunder, 95-81, in their sudden-death match in the Samsung PBA Reinforced Conference quarterfinals last night at the Philsports Arena.

The Phone Pals played smart all night and went for the kill the moment the Thunder lost their bearing down the stretch, completing an upset of the elimination-round topnotcher to gain entry into the Final Four.

Damien Cantrell dished out an excellent game and had his finest plays in the payoff period, delivering the knockout punch on the shell-shocked Thunder. He had 39 points, 15 rebounds, two assists and one steal against only one turnover.

The entire Talk n Text team actually came up with an impeccable showing in the highly-charged contest marred by a fight among the fans at the gallery, heated verbal tussles among the players and a flagrant foul by Jimwell Torion on Jimmy Alapag in the closing seconds.

Alapag suffered a suspected fractured nose bridge in the incident and was rushed to the nearby Medical City.

"We prepared ourselves for the longest 48 minutes of our lives. We fought possession for possession. We got out of our gameplan at one point but, in the end, our outside shooting connected with Damien (Cantrell) making a fantastic job breaking their defense," said Talk n Text coach Joel Banal.

But Banal felt the key in their passage into the semis was their victory in Game One.

On Torionís flagrant foul on Alapag making the fiery pointguard a doubtful starter in the semis, Banal said: "I felt bad that incident happened. Thatís uncalled for. I think the league has no place for incidents like that."

Talk n Text was already putting the finishing touches in its win when Torion threw a clothesline tackle on the unsuspecting Alapag with only 48.9 ticks left and the Phone Pals ahead by eight at 89-81.

The Phone Pals got that decisive advantage as Cantrell made a sudden explosion of 12 points in a three-minute stretch from a 76-74 count.

With the Thunder still within striking distance at 79-85, Cantrell unleashed a fallaway jumper that trickled in then drew a foul from Scott Burrell for two charities, 89-79, with time down to 1:26.

The Phone Pals actually led by as many as 15 points, 29-14, in the second quarter after engaging the Thunder in a so-so first-quarter contest.

But the Thunder got back into the game, 34-35, before the first half ended with Burrell taking charge for Red Bull Barako.

Burrell finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds. Torion and Davonn Harp also scored in twin digits but Willie Miller was good for only two points after a 26-point game the last time out.

Coca-Cola outhustled and outplayed Barangay Ginebra down the stretch to score a 92-86 decision and arrange a best-of-five semis showdown with Talk n Text.

"It was a game fiercely contested for 48 minutes. We fought tooth and nail and it came down to the final possessions. My playersí ability to execute at crunchtime bailed us out," said Coca-Cola coach Chot Reyes.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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