by Jonas Terrado
(Smart Araneta Coliseum)
4:15 p.m. – Star vs Rain or Shine
7 p.m. – Meralco vs TNT KaTropa
The Star Hotshots and TNT KaTropa look to confirm their place in the semifinals against struggling opponents as the best-of-three quarterfinal series resumes tonight in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Star takes the first crack at advancing to the last four in the 4:15 p.m. opener against Rain or Shine, which suffered the third worst playoff loss in franchise history during the series opener last Monday.
TNT plays Meralco in the other game at 7 p.m., with the latter hoping to see the dominant form that import Alex Stepheson has shown in the early part of the tournament.
The coaches of both Game 1 winners see plenty of difficulties in closing out their series.
“We know na defending champion kasi itong Rain or Shine, so hindi namin pwedeng balewalain ito,” said Hotshots coach Chito Victolero. “Maganda panalo namin (sa Game 1), but it’s not yet over. Let’s see, sana maging maganda ulit ang laro namin.”
The Hotshots leaned on a 15-0 second quarter run sparked by Jio Jalalon that set the stage for a 118-82 victory over the Elasto Painters, whose struggles have left them on the brink of another early exit in the second conference following the departure of long-time mentor Yeng Guiao.
As for TNT coach Nash Racela, he can only think of numerous plots Meralco may execute after posting a 102-84 victory.
“We could only, of course, anticipate,” said Racela. “(Meralco’s) got a good coaching staff, for sure they’ll spend hours watching the game tape. We’ll do the same, and I can’t say right now but we’ll try to anticipate a lot of things.”
One of the things Racela will probably look ahead to is a more difficult defensive effort against Stepheson, who struggled with just nine points and 16 rebounds – a far cry from his conference averages of 16 points and 23 rebounds.
Meralco coach Norman Black was obviously upset with Stepheson’s performance, even pointing out the way TNT started the game with its import Joshua Smith on the bench because of the flu.
“As a former import, it would’ve been insulting for the other team not to start their import. I mean, if you did that against me, I’m gonna get 50 on you. So he needs to take it personal,” Black said.
“A lot of times when it’s an imported conference, let’s face it: the import plays really well, the locals play really well. If the import is not productive then the locals really don’t play that well. We just need for Alex to step up and do a much better job than what he did (in Game 1).”
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