JANUARY 21, 2007
(STAR) SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin M. Henson - For embattled Purefoods coach Ryan Gregorio, it’s all about thinking positive and believing that there’s a tomorrow.

"We’ve got the smallest frontline in the league and Ping (Marc Pingris) showed up in crutches at practice," said Gregorio yesterday. "But if there’s a team that can come back from adversity, it’s us. We’ve done it before, coming back from 1-3 against Alaska (in the semifinals of the last conference) to win. Our back is against the wall so what else is new?"

Purefoods is a loss away from getting booted out of contention by Talk ‘N’ Text in their best-of-5 Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) quarterfinal series. The Phone Pals are sitting on a 2-1 series edge and enjoy a twice to beat advantage. For the Chunkee Giants to make it to the semifinals where Barangay Ginebra is waiting, they’ve got to beat Talk ‘N’ Text twice in a row — in Game 4 at the Cuneta Astrodome tonight and in Game 5 (which is contingent on a Purefoods victory tonight) on Wednesday.

That’s a tall order but Gregorio isn’t giving up hope.

The Giants and Phone Pals squared off twice in the eliminations. Talk ‘N’ Text won their first meeting, 108-99, then Purefoods stormed back to eke out a 109-103 triple overtime decision in the rematch. In the quarters, Purefoods drew first blood with an 87-84 cliffhanger in Game 1. The Phone Pals rebounded to take Game 2, 110-92, and Game 3, 102-78.

"I have faith in the character of our team," said Gregorio. "I told the guys even without Ping, we’re not out of it. We’ll compete. It’s a five-on-five game. Sure, we’re like a drowning man but we’re fighting for our last breath. That’s the challenge we face. We know we’re up against a power-packed team. They made changes in their lineup that made them stronger while we remained the same. We’re the defending champions and this is a test of character. We showed we can beat them in Game 1. We’ll just have to show we can do it twice more."

Like Eugene Tejada in the last conference, Pingris might just be the rallying point for Purefoods to stay alive in the Talk ‘N’ Text series.

"Ping really has a big heart," said Gregorio. "When he hurt his nose, he was so sorry he couldn’t help us in the game. I told him I would never jeopardize his or any player’s health for a game. Then he got a face mask. In last Friday’s game, he took off the mask and a few seconds later, hurt his ankle. I told Ping not to take it as a setback but a trial that he will pass, not fail. He was blessed last conference so he should just think positive. His teammates told him to be ready for the semis."

Gregorio said Pingris’ conversion to Christianity through his fiancée Danica Sotto has done a lot to make him stronger spiritually.

"Before, he was evasive when anyone asked about his father but not anymore," said Gregorio. "It’s a great story how Danica located his father whom Ping hasn’t seen since he was three years old. Danica went to the French embassy, got a list of all the people with the surname Pingris living in France and contacted every one of them until she found a relative who tracked down his missing father."

Gregorio said Pingris’ father Jean Marc Sr. phoned two weeks ago.

"All the hurt of not growing up with a father is gone," said Gregorio. "Now, Ping and his father are talking."

Pingris and Danica are getting married in March. They plan to honeymoon in Switzerland, where Danica has friends and relatives, then visit his father in Paris.

Pingris’ father will not be able to come for the wedding but is eager to meet his long lost son. He was a consultant with the MWSS and married Erlinda Prado of San Manuel, Pangasinan, in Pozorrubio. The family lived in White Plains with Pingris’ half-sisters Joanne and Regine. When Pingris was three years old, his father left for France and promised to return — but never did.

When Pingris was in Grade 1, his French grandmother wrote asking for him but she never wrote again. Pingris heard his father was a car racer and worked in a submarine in Morocco before finally, reconnecting.

As for Game 4 tonight, Gregorio said he’ll use different types of defense to throw off the Phone Pals.

"When Asi (Taulava) is inside, we’re forced to double or triple and that will leave somebody open unless we rotate back quickly," said Gregorio. "When we zone, RenRen (Ritualo) will hurt us. It’s a challenge for us to do the right thing at the right time. We’ll change up on our defense. They did a good job of defending James (Yap) in Game 3 with a small defender. They concentrated their defense on Kerby (Raymundo) and James. We have matchup problems but we’ll just to play smarter. I’m digging deep into my bag of tricks. This is our last chance to do or die."

Yap finished with 16 points last Friday but didn’t make a single attempt in the fourth period because of Talk ‘N’ Text’s leech-like denial defense. He was 1-of-5 from the floor in the second half. If the Giants hope to survive, Yap must get his touches.

Yap said he’s prepared to do battle tonight. If he’s called on to make the big shots, the MVP promised to be ready.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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