Ricardo Ratliffe turned to a cakewalk his expected colossal battle with Alex Stepheson as the Star Hotshots dismantled the Meralco Bolts, 108-90, to inch closer to a Top Two finish in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup eliminations at the Smart Araneta Coliseum Wednesday night.
Ratliffe outclassed Stepheson and the Hotshots made decisive runs in the second and fourth quarters en route to grabbing the solo lead with a 9-2 win-loss card.
The returning Star import collected 32 points and 13 rebounds as against Stepheson’s personal conference-lows of nine markers and nine boards. More importantly, Ratliffe sent his Meralco counterpart out on fouls with over six minutes left to play.
Star opened an 18-point spread in the second period and just when the Bolts came to within six, the Hotshots made a bigger run at the start of the fourth to pull off the emphatic win.
With the loss, the Bolts went down to joint second place with the TNT KaTropa Texters at 7-3, with the San Miguel Beermen and the Barangay Ginebra Kings breathing down their neck at 6-2.
But the Hotshots themselves are not yet safe at 8-2.
“We have to keep on winning at kailangan din namin ng tulong ng ibang teams. Talo kami sa quotient against San Miguel at Ginebra,” said Star coach Chito Victolero.
Still a must-win game for the Hotshots is their last game against the Alaska Milk Aces.
The Hotshots, however, are comfortable with the thought that they have an import that can match up with anybody.
“We need an import like Ricardo. Again, we have no bad blood with Tony (Mitchell), but we need an inside presence that can be provided by Ricardo, lalo na ngayon na wala si Marc Pingris,” Victolero pointed out.
A force on both ends of the floor, Ratliffe anchored Star’s runs that had them leading by 18 in the second quarter, then pulling away again after the Bolts came to within six, 75-81, at the end of the third.
The Hotshots tore the Bolts apart for good on a 13-to-nothing start in the final canto.
The Bolts ended a long scoreless spell in the fourth on a short jumper by Kelly Nabong with 4:55 left to play.
The Hotshots, however, had the game all wrapped up then.
NLEX coach Yeng Guiao is being given a good glimpse of his team\'s future right now
Seemingly adjusted to Guiao\'s system, the Road Warriors finally had enough in their tank to pull the rug from under Alaska 100-92 Wednesday and barge into the win-column of the PBA Commissioner\'s Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
It was the first victory in 10 games for NLEX and snapped it out of a 13-game winless spell that dated back to Jan. 7.
Making the victory sweeter is the fact the Road Warriors pulled it off despite an early 20-point deficit and making do with an all-Filipino line-up in the final 5:20 of play after Wayne Chism fouled out.
Good thing Kevin Alas, JR Quinahan, Alex Mallari, Juami Tiongson and Rabeh Al-Hussaini had enough composure to bring the team home in the face of unrelenting pressure from the Aces.
For Guiao, the way his charges played against a second league heavyweight in as many games just proves the re-tooling he initiated through trades earlier this month is sound, resulting in their first win in 10 games.
\"Two weeks ago we made some painful decisions, hard decisions. Gusto lang namin na i-validate na at least tama ang mga ginawa namin,\" said Guiao.
Guiao also maintained that his side, long out of the running for the quarterfinals and despite a final eliminations game against Phoenix on Saturday, is already looking forward to the next conference.
There\'s enough time to savor the breakthrough and the benefits it brings.
\"We caught a big fish,\" stressed Guiao. \"Alaska is one of the best teams, hard to beat, especially with their press, especially with our team that\'s struggling with its confidence. Good win for us. We need a lot more situations like this to build our confidence.\"
The cost is indeed heavy for Alaska, which absorbed its fifth straight loss after a 4-0 start and now faces the gargantuan task of winning against either San Miguel Beer on Saturday or Star next Wednesday to gain inclusion among the top eight teams advancing to the next round.
Losses in those games and the perennial contender may be left out altogether.
Cory Jefferson led everybody with 36 points and 20 rebounds, Vic Manuel came off the bench for 17 points and Calvin Abueva and Jayvee Casio chipped in at least 10 points each for Alaska.
The game also took an additional toll when Abueva twisted his right ankle just under the final two-minute mark and had to be taken out for good with still 1:33 left.
The presence of the Gilas standout in the stretch could have helped the Aces who mainly misfired in the fourth period and found it awfully tough to match the Road Warriors\' intensity and energy at crunch time.
In all, Alaska made just five of 21 shots in the fourth period to NLEX\'s 5-of-15 clip from the field. The team also committed 24 turnovers, causing it to loosen its hold on the game which seemed in the bag after the Aces raced to an early 20-point lead.
NLEX started turning things around with a big second quarter in which it outscored Alaska 33-13 before winning the fourth 24-17.
The real turning point came after Alas countered Jefferson\'s three straight points with a triple as the Road Warriors made 11 free throws inside the last 2:26 that enabled them to break away from an 89-87 count.
Tiongson turned in a career-high 16 points to go with five rebounds and four assists while Quinahan also scored 16 markers on top of seven boards and four assists. Alas also complemented Chism\'s 22 points with 11 points.
Emman Monfort, Jansen Rios and Asi Taulava also did their part in making up for the continued absence of Jonas Villanueva and Larry Fonacier, both recovering from bone spurs removal.
Nagulat si NLEX coach Yeng Guiao sa desisyon ng dati niyang import na si Wendell McKines na i-turn down ang offer na magsama silang muli sa isang koponan.
Magbabagong bihis na muli ang balik-import na si McKines kung saan maglalaro siya sa San Miguel Beermen. Naglaro ang dating import sa Alaska at Rain or Shine, ang huling koponang pinagsamahan nila ni Guiao.
“Siyempre nagulat ako kasi nga nag-uusap kami. He was telling me he was having a difficult time getting out form his contractual obligations in Korea, but it looked like he found a way as he’ll be playing for another team. Ganyan talaga, so we decided to get a new one,” Guiao said.
The new import Guiao is referring is Mexican League veteran Aaron Fuller, who at 27 years old, is fresh from winning a championship with his previous team Fuerza Regia
According to Guiao, Fuller, who is listed at 6-foot-6 and went undrafted in the NBA a few years ago, is a versatile player, something which NLEX needs in trying to come up with a decent finish in the Governors Cup.
“Mahirap kumuha sa America ng import na 6-5, pero kayang maglaro sa loob. Sa US, yung 6-5 point guard lang. We’re happy to get a versatile player in Fuller, who can play the power forward and small forward spots. These spots are the ones we’re lacking the previous two conferences,” added Guiao.
With their Commissioner’s Cup campaign practically over, Guiao will try to bring in his new import early so they could prepare for the Governors' Cup.
In another development, Guiao advised veteran Larry Fonacier to undergo operation to remove a bone spur so he could rejoin the squad in the third conference.
“Kaya pa naman, makakahabol pa. I told him since we’re already eliminated, it would be logical for him to undergo operation,” added Guiao.
Fonacier is one of the three players recently acquired by Guiao. He played for the veteran mentor in his rookie year where they won a championship with Red Bull in the 2005-06 season.
Guiao also took in old reliable JR Quinahan from GlobalPort and tapped shifty player Alex Mallari from Mahindra.
How to match up with Alex Stepheson was among those keenly considered as the Star Hotshots decided to bring back Ricardo Ratliffe.
Now comes the colossal matchup between the two huge imports as the Hotshots and the Meralco Bolts clash in a crucial setto in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum Wednesday.
The Hotshots and the Bolts dispute solo leadership as they mix it up at 7 p.m. at the start of the final week of the one-round-robin eliminations.
Going to the match, the two teams are tightly bunched together with Barangay Ginebra (6-2), San Miguel Beer (6-2) and TNT KaTropa (7-3) in a spirited race for the Top Two that reward twice-to-beat advantage in the quarterfinals.
“It will be a crucial game for both of us since both teams have chances for the Top Two. Mental toughness will be a key factor in this game,” said Star coach Chito Victolero.
The Bolts dropped to a tie with the Hotshots after a shocking 86-94 loss to the GlobalPort Batang Pier in their last outing.
“I give them (GlobalPort) credit, they played hard, and they played well, and they rebounded the ball well which was something we didn’t do,” rued Meralco coach Norman Black. “We didn’t rebound the ball well, except for Alex (Stepheson), so I told the team we deserved to be beaten.”
The Hotshots and Ratliffe, meanwhile, marked their reunion with a 107-97 win over the Tropang Texters before the SEABA break.
Victolero anticipates a defensive battle with the Bolts.
“We expect a defensive game since both teams are in the top four on defense and points allowed as the stats indicate,” said Victolero.
“We need to tighten our defense inside and limit the activity of their import especially in getting the offensive rebounds and second chance points. Perimeter defense is also very important to prevent their guards from penetrating and creating their shots,” Victolero added.
Ratliffe marked his PBA comeback with 37 points and 22 rebounds in their disposal of the Texters.
Stepheson, meanwhile, averages 22.3 points, 17.78 points, 1.56 blocks and 1.56 assists.
Local Meralco players averaging double-digit outputs are Baser Amer (15.89), Jared Dillinger (13.89) and Chris Newsome (12.56).
The Hotshots, on the other hand, have local guys to bank on in Allein Maliksi (13.29), Jio Jalalon (11.57) and Paul Lee (11.44).
ALASKA has been on an alarming tailspin and badly needs to snap out of it.
NLEX could help, but that is only if the Road Warriors come up with the listless game they have lately been known for in the PBA Commissioner\'s Cup Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Aces are eyeing a win that would not only snap them out of their four-game slide but also put them back on course for nabbing one of the three remaining quarterfinals slots.
The game carries little meaning for NLEX, which has long been taken out in the race for quarterfinals slots. But seven-time champion coach Yeng Guiao would surely want his charges to at least act out the role of spoilers not only against Alaska but also against Phoenix on Saturday.
The importance of the game for his Alaska squad and the ambush NLEX may have laid out are not lost on coach Alex Compton.
\"This is a huge game for us and we are treating it like a must-win,\" said Compton, whose Aces still have to battle San Miguel Beer on Saturday and Star next Wednesday.
\"We need to get back on track and play excellent for 48 minutes against a Coach Yeng-coached team that has nothing to lose,\" added Compton.
\"No excuses for us. We need to be great tomorrow.\"
That has not been the case for Alaska in its funk that dates back to April 8 and capped by a 110-119 loss to TNT KaTropa last Saturday in Legaspi City, where the Aces blew as much as an early 17-point lead.
What should boost Alaska\'s hopes is the fact NLEX is freshly re-tooled and has not had enough time to acclimatize its new acquisitions in JR Quinahan, Alex Mallari and Kenneth Ighalo to the team\'s system.
Worse, another new recruit in Larry Fonacier and veteran guard Jonas Villanueva are both out for the remainder of the conference after having bone spurs on their respective feet removed.
That leaves Guiao to rely mostly once again on Wayne Chism, Carlo Lastimosa, Kevin Alas and Rabeh Al-Hussaini.
In contrast, Alaska would be coming in full force with Gilas standout Calvin Abueva, Jayvee Casio, the more in-form Vic Manuel and Sonny Thoss there to provide Cory Jefferson support.