SLR Tries To Go 3-0

On: 20 February 2008

Journal Online, 20 February 2008

Coach Boyet Fernandez doesn't want to talk about the confrontation he and Purefoods' Roger Yap had after Game Two anymore, nor Ryan Gregorio's statements about him making a lot of enemies.

"It's water under the bridge," he said.

The Sta. Lucia mentor would rather choose to talk about the Realtors' approaching date with history, the defense that had worked flawlessly in the series, and the toughness his team has put up against a squad that's supposed to be in command.

Leading 2-0 in the best-of-seven showdown, Fernandez and the Realtors also feel the Giants are far from done. They've been able to climb back from such deficits not only once, but twice. And he expects Purefoods to do something they are not known to -- play physical.

"It's going to be physical," said Fernandez as he and his mixture of young and old players prepare for Game Three in the Smart-PBA Philippine Cup tonight at the Araneta Coliseum.

In a championship series where surprises have been aplenty, Purefoods' inability to keep Sta. Lucia at bay is the most puzzling. Even with James Yap performing way above average-level, and Kerby Raymundo trying his best to dominate, the Giants always lose steam in the end.

And Gregorio knows it.

"I'm over extending their (Yap and Raymundo) minutes," said Greogorio. "I have to dig deep into my bag of tricks especially in the roster, and try to put in players to give James and Kerby a little more rest."

Or else, the series will be over just like that.

Sta. Lucia has beaten Purefoods by an average margin of 11.5 points in the series' two games, outscored the Giants by 11 points in the fourth quarter in Game Two and almost pushed Yap and Raymundo as non-factor in the second half because of choking defense.

Experience, the thing Gregorio said would be his primary weapon in the championships, wasn't a factor at all for the Giants. They've been outplayed and outhustled in the second half, putting to waste all their brilliant efforts in the opening two quarters.

Gregorio admits that Purefoods' mission to become the second team after Crispa to win five All-Filipino titles -- an all-time high -- in its 20th championship appearance is not looking good. Now, his best ally is to hope.

"Yes, it looks bleak at this point," said Gregorio. "But it takes four wins to win a series. We're not done yet."

The young mentor has bragging rights to believe that it can be accomplished. In the 2002 Governors' Cup, the franchise came back from a 0-2 and 1-3 deficit in the Finals to beat Alaska in seven games. Then, in the 2006 semifinals against Alaska again, the Giants once more clawed their way back from a 0-2 gap to advance into the Finals in seven games.

"If there's one team that can come out from the rut that we're experiencing right now, it's us," said Gregorio. "We've been in this situation before. We just have to think of happy thoughts right now."

Gregorio says that being down 0-2, the pressure is no longer on Purefoods. To them, the thing that matters is not to think of the daunting series deficit but to think about today's game.

"I can't do something about our start (in the series), but definitely we can do something about the game tomorrow," he said.

For their part, the Realtors will just have to make it sure that their defense is polished once more after the two-day rest. One more brilliant performance against Purefods in Game Three is virtually a title, their first since winning the 2001 Governors' Cup.

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