Veteran sports anchor and ESPN5.com columnist Charlie Cuna gives his two cents on the 2018 Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Governors' Cup, covering the period of September 17 to 23.
Game(s) of the Week
Counting the two games played just before the league took a break for the FIBA World Cup Qualifier window, there were nine games in the third week of the Governors' Cup. There were several good ones among them, but the Blackwater Elite figured in the two games that stood out. First, on Wednesday, September 19, the Elite had a close battle with NorthPort, which saw them squeak out a 113-111 win. Unlikely hero Chris Javier hit big baskets for BW in the endgame, but the solid performances of the entire Elite starting five (Henry Walker with 24 points and 15 rebounds, Poy Erram with 19 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks], Mac Belo with 13 points, Mike DiGregorio with 19 points, 6 rebounds, and John Pinto with 8 points and 13 assists) was the biggest reason the team remained unbeaten at 3-0.
Not done for the week, the Elite then matched up with an injury-riddled Barangay Ginebra on Friday. Despite being undermanned, the Gin Kings played solid basketball with Justin Brownlee leading the way. However, Blackwater refused to fold and kept challenging the Barangay. A huge three-pointer by DiGregorio sent the game into overtime, while his teammates Paul Zamar, Walker, and Belo rained from beyond the arc in the extra period, to put the game away and keep the Elite's record spotless.
Phoenix vs Magnolia highlights
After their win against Magnolia, the Phoenix Fuel Masters improved their win-loss record to 5-1, their best start in franchise history.
Top performance of the week (local)
This is tough because there were so many standout local performers in the past week's games, even in losses. Jackson Corpuz (28pts, 10rbs) had a great game against SMB, but his team was left behind. Stanley Pringle (34pts, 5 of 10 threes) shined brightly against Ginebra. Arwind Santos (29pts, 7 of 13 threes) was impressive against the Dyip. We can go on and on. But, for the week, and as in the past, when there is an exceptional performance from a player who is not really expected to produce that way, we give proper acknowledgment and recognition. Aljon Mariano started for Coach Tim Cone against SMB on Sunday and had perhaps his best-ever PBA game to date, finishing with 20pts (on a perfect 7/7 from the field), 7rbs, and 2 stls. He was a big part of Ginebra's attack, played great defense on AZ Reid, and played more and more confidently as the game wore on. All in all, it was a huge week for Aljon, as he had a 16pt, 6rb line against BW on Friday.
Top performance of the week (import)
Henry Walker has really been stepping up lately, with solid numbers in all three of his team's wins during the period covered here. He has been particularly effective late in the game (the whole team has been!) and, as a result, his team is winning in tight endgames, which was usually when the team struggled in the past. Marqus Blakely had a rousing debut for TNT on Saturday (26pts, 14rbs, 8asts, 3stls) versus Rain or Shine. However, the top performance for an import also came on Sunday as Phoenix topped Magnolia to up its record to 5-1, behind an overpowering outing from "El Destructor" Eugene Phelps. Easily the strongest import in the lot, he bullied the opposition en route to 36pts, 20rbs, and 4blks. If only he could improve on his free throw shooting (14/26, 53%), his scoring numbers would be even much higher every game.
Phoenix rising at right time
Despite having an impressive start to the 2018 PBA Governors' Cup, the Phoenix Fuel Masters are not feeling complacent as they still have to face tough assignments in their upcoming games.
Disappointing performance of the week
There were no highly disappointing individual performances in the past week. The unwanted nod here goes to the Columbian Dyip, particularly their second-half performance against San Miguel on Friday. Leading by two at the half, 66-64, after a first-half shootout, the Dyip simply lost its focus and resorted to one-on-one, individual play, struggled horribly on defense against the Beermen's hot shooting, and simply let the game slip away. Coach Johnedel Cardel was visibly frustrated with his team's showing, especially because the Dyip had been competitive until late in all their games. In this one, by mid-third quarter, it was practically over. While some of the Dyip put up above-average numbers, collectively, this performance was a let-down.
Must-see for this week
Phoenix with Calvin Abueva is at 5-1, while Ginebra San Miguel is at 4-1. They will meet on Saturday in Cagayan de Oro. It will be very interesting to see who will step up this time for each team. The Fuel Masters are really coming into their own with a new brand of toughness brought about by its current personnel. The Gin Kings find ways to compete and win, even while their roster is impaired. Two of the best imports in the league, Justin Brownlee and Phelps, are reason enough to stay tuned to this match-up. The game is at 5:00pm, LIVE on ESPN5.