SLR 83, Coke 82

On: 23 October 2008

PBA's 34th Season

Veteran team captain Dennis Espino came through with the crucial points at the crunch to provide the Realtors with the poise the Tigers sorely needed to gift new interim coach Kenneth Duremdes his first win on his very first coaching try. They also took advantage of the Tigers' lapses in the endgame to escape with an 83-82 cliffhanger in the KFC PBA Philippine Cup at the Araneta Coliseum on 22 October 2008.

“I'll take that game anytime,” said a visibly relieved SLR coach Boyet Fernandez after his team's third straight victory that propped its win-loss record to 3-1 and a temporary tie at second-running spot with the San Miguel Beermen, dueling Barangay Ginebra later in the evening.

“Coke came out strong even though Kenneth had just a day to prepare them. I appreciate what he did because it's a different Coke team right now,” he added. “I'm happy we met them right after their change.”

Joseph Yeo scored 15 points to lead four SLR players in double figures, but it was Espino's five straight points that spelled the big difference in the game that had 17 lead changes and 10 deadlocks.

Yeo also came up with two crucial plays, harassing John Arigo into missing what was already an ill-advised attempt and inadvertently landing a knee on Asi Taulava's right leg in the return play, 33.4 ticks left.

The injury, later on suspected to be a muscle tear, forced Taulava to sit it out for the remainder of the game and the loss of their center took a very big toll on the Tigers' bid to steal the game.

With nobody as reliable as Taulava to dump the ball inside to, John Arigo, Aries Dimaunahan, Mark Macapagal and Ronjay Buenafe missed some ill-advised shots in the waning seconds that spelled Coke's doom.

Taulava led everybody with 24 points and 15 rebounds and three other Coke players had at least 11 points. But those efforts went for naught as the Tigers absorbed their second straight loss and dropped to a 1-4 record in all.

Duremdes was a former SLR player who was part of the trade in April last year that sent him, Alex Cabagnot and Ricky Calimag to Coke for Dennis Miranda, Manny Ramos and the Tigers' 2008 second round pick. He was asked to take over from Binky Favis on an interim basis last Tuesday.

Favis went on leave after growing disgruntlement by most of his players, who also named Duremdes as his replacement.

Tigers team manager JB Baylon said in a post-game interview they are still sticking it out with Duremdes while not cutting any ties with Favis.

“I don't see a need to rush with the decision because we all want the entire team to be on the same page,” said Baylon, referring to whether any new move is to be made by the team.

“I have to say everybody did a good job, even though we lost and I'm still getting inputs from Binky before the game and we have no intentions of sending him away,” Baylon added.

Now the entire Coke team is left wondering what could have been had Favis been calling the shots, especially after a game in which the Tigers hit their stride after staring at an early 12-24 deficit.

Buenafe, who finished with 17 points and Taulava also combined to lead a 7-0 run that gave the Tigers an 82-78 spread, still 1:27 left in the game.

After a Coke timeout following Espino's three-point play that made it 81-82, Arigo received the inbound and, despite a fresh shotclock and instructions to look for Taulava inside, immediately went for a keyhole jumper that missed.

In the ensuing play, Espino found himself suddenly free for a short stab after losing Taulava to teammate Ronjay Buenafe in a back screen by Yeo underneath the basket.

The Tigers had easy chances to steal the win, but Dimaunahan, Buenafe and Macapagal flubbed their respective three-point attempts when a simple two-pointer would have done the job.

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