Pilipinas-Smart Gilas proved there is life even without Marcus Douthit.
Playing with urgency and tenacity, the Nationals survived the absence of their dominant big man by rallying back from 23 points down to pull the rug from under the Powerade Tigers, 98-97, and formalize their entry into the playoffs of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup Sunday night at the Araneta Coliseum.
JV Casio topscored for the national team with 29 points, the last of which turned out to be the game winner, as the wily point guard dribbled past two Powerade defenders and scooped a one-hander under the outstretched arms of Francis Allera in the final 9.3 seconds of the tightly-fought contest.
The Tigers, who led by as many as 23 points at 40-17 in the second quarter, had two chances of winning the match, but missed on both opportunities.
Import Martin Zeno failed to ring the bell on his turn-around jumper, and then Allera, who got the loose ball after Japeth Aguilar failed to control possession, botched a point-blank shot as the buzzer sounded.
Douthit, who was in uniform but didn’t see action owing to a sprained ankle, exchanged high-fives with his teammates at centercourt as the Nationals basked in the glory of their sixth win in seven games to join Talk `N Text into the playoffs of the import-laden tournament.
“This team has a lot of qualities,” said a proud Pilipinas-Smart Gilas coach Rajko Toroman later.”The boys know how to play. We reacted well in the end. Now people will think that this is not only a Marcus Douthit team.”
The 6-foot-11 Douthit averaged 20.5 points and conference highs of 17.5 rebounds and three blocks per game before spraining his ankle in the Nationals’ lone loss in the conference – a 98-90 setback against B-Meg Derby Ace.
But in his absence, the rest of the Pilipinas-Smart Gilas members stepped up, with Marcio Lassiter coming through with 21 points, Chris Lutz adding 11 and Japeth Aguilar chipping in 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Pilipinas-Smart Gilas trailed 42-55 at the half, but outscored Powerade, 34-16, in the third to take a 76-71 lead entering the final 12 minutes of play.
The Tigers regained the upper hand at 91-86, but the Nationals tied the count at 93-93 on a one-hander by Aldrech Ramos.
Gary David broke the tie with an open jumper at the top of the key, 95-93, before Chris Tiu hit a huge three-pointer with 36.8 seconds to go, giving the Nationals a 96-95 lead.
Zeno gave Powerade the lead back for the last time at 97-96 but failed to complete the and-one play, before Casio came through with his game winner.
Powerade fell to 2-6 (win-loss) and virtually kissed its playoffs hopes goodbye, stretching its streak of non-playoff appearances to six.
Zeno led the Tigers with 28 points while David added 23. – KY, RCJ, GMA News
Smart Gilas 98 – Casio 29, Lassiter 21, Lutz 11, Aguilar 10, Tiu 7, Ramos 7, Baracael 5, Slaughter 4, Barroca 4, Ballesteros 0.
Powerade 97 – Zeno 28, David 23, Espino 10, Lanete 9, Quinahan 8, Macapagal 5, Allera 4, Antonio 4, Reyes 3, Cruz 3, Anthony 0.
Quarters: 14-34, 42-55, 76-71, 98-97
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