When Petron Blaze defeated Talk ‘N Text in Game Seven of the 2011 Governor’s Cup, Boosters coach Ato Agustin made no secret of how he felt about his vanquished rivals.
“They chose the wrong opponent,” said Agustin into a microphone as he made his post-game speech on the Araneta Coliseum floor.
Agustin was referring to the controversial final game of the semifinal round where the Tropang Texters sat out their starters in the second half, handing Petron Blaze an easy win and allowing them to leapfrog Ginebra and Alaska in the standings and enter the finals.
For the Boosters, it was a slap in the face to be chosen as the easier option instead of their crowd favorite sister team Ginebra.
“It’s obvious to see that they chose opponents,” Agustin expounded in the post-game interview. “That’s where they made a mistake because we match up well with them. We have good defensive players who are guards to match up with the small import.”
Privately, the Talk ‘N Text coaches believed the same thing. One assistant admitted that while they held no discussions on whom they preferred to play, the team knew that the big Petron backcourt would pose more challenges for the smaller Tropang Texters guards than Ginebra would.
Talk ‘N Text denies tanking that semifinal game, and attributes the poor effort to simply finding it difficult to motivate players who knew the game was essentially no-bearing, as the team had already previously qualified for the PBA finals.
But that didn’t matter because many, including outraged Ginebra fans, held the perception that they did choose their opponent. And more importantly, the Petron Blaze Boosters believed it as well.
And that set the stage for a finals series that was nothing short of personal.
It was highly-physical, especially from the Boosters’ end, and both teams dug deep into their bag of tricks. The Texters guards, especially Jason Castro and import Scottie Reynolds, were roughed up every time they entered the paint. Ranidel De Ocampo, nursing a broken nose, was smashed by Mick Pennisi with a hard foul that opened up a cut on his head in Game Two. Later in the same game, Castro took a hard spill that prompted teammate Mark Yee to charge into the Petron bench, even shoving a referee aside in the process.
In Game Seven, Jojo Duncil would be ejected for sticking his foot under Talk ‘N Text replacement import Mo Baker as Baker took a jump shot. In the same game, Danny Ildefonso, after getting the bum end of a no-call, complained to the refs then nonchalantly jogged back and leveled Kelly Williams with a body check.
In an earlier game, Petron import Anthony Grundy and Talk ‘N Text assistant Nash Racela got involved in a harsh exchange of words after Racela essentially set a screen for one of his players when Grundy and Ryan Reyes stumbled into the Texters’ bench. After allowing Reyes to pass by, Racela took a step that would directly impeded Grundy, who found the move less than amusing.
What was likely even less amusing for Grundy was Yee’s now-infamous maneuver where he dug deep into much more than just his bag of tricks. To discourage Grundy from setting up back-to-the-basket in the low post, Yee plugged his finger into his counterpart’s backside.
But none of that was uglier than when the Boosters coach challenged Talk ‘N Text coach Chot Reyes to a fistfight in the dugout. After an easy win for the Texters in Game 3 where his team went up 2-1, Agustin would put an arm around Reyes and appear to have a friendly conversation with his rival.
The players headed into their respective locker rooms, unaware of what was happening between their coaches. Inside the Talk ‘N Text dugout, the players acted business as usual as they waited for their coaches to come in.
Many were surprised when Reyes entered the locker room and violently threw a water bottle to the ground before disappearing into the shower areas. Players murmured under their breaths about how it was about their failed box outs and other theories.
Reyes resurfaced later with a defiant expression on his face and some mist in his eyes.
“(Expletive) that coach,” Reyes said. “He just challenged me to a fistfight.”
“It’s easy to say yes, but we’re playing for something important here. I have to be an example to you guys. When I tell you not to react to what they do, how will you listen to me if I don’t practice what I preach?” said Reyes.
“So I’ll keep my cool, but it’s hard, man.”
Team captain Jimmy Alapag, who would win the 2011 MVP award days later, jumped in with words of support.
“It’s the only chance they got,” Alapag said. “They’re going to the media, calling us soft and saying we got no heart. Well, they got whooped tonight.”
“It’s not about me and him,” Reyes added. “It’s about this team right here.”
In hindsight, maybe Reyes should have stepped up to the challenge. Because behind the knowledge that their coach had put up a challenge and the opponent refused, the Boosters came out looking energized for the next game.
They seemed to run faster, jump higher and hit harder than earlier in the series. Arwind Santos, in particular, transformed from a solid player to a superstar, kicking up his averages by four points and five rebounds after Game 3.
In the end, the Texters just couldn’t keep up. Their high-scoring import Reynolds began to play scared, shying away from attempts in the paint and was eventually replaced. Baker, who replaced Reynolds after Game 5, played with more grit but succumbed to foul trouble in Game 7 of the series. Ryan Reyes and Jason Castro, arguably the two most important players on the Talk ‘N Text roster, both suffered injuries.
Talk ‘N Text saw their Grand Slam ambitions come crashing down to the ground.
The Texters sulked into the locker room and into a somber post-game dinner with family and friends. But not before they heard Agustin’s parting shots at them and their coach.
“They chose the wrong opponent,” said a jubilant Agustin. “And when they gave us the chance to get lucky, we got lucky four times.”
A source said Alapag had spoken after the series about the things Petron said about them after the game.
“Come next season, though, we’re still the defending champs,” Alapag reportedly said. “We’ll still be here.”
One conference later, and again it’s Talk ‘N Text and Petron Blaze in a best-of-seven series. For the third time in four conferences, the two rival teams get the chance to knock each other off.
The stakes are lower, yes, because it’s the semifinals. But don’t believe for one second that that will matter one bit. The two teams showed too much animosity, and now, share too much history for that to matter.
It didn’t take long for Talk ‘N Text to get their chance at revenge.
Last conference, though, they came into their series ready to play. If that series was any indication, they better come ready for a fight.