Jimmy Alapag came through in the clutch and powered Talk ‘N Text to a 100-94 victory over Air21 yesterday that kept the Tropang Texters firmly on top in the PBA Philippine Cup eliminations at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The speedy point guard drilled a couple of three-pointers late in the fourth quarter, the last one pushing the listless Texters to a six-point lead, then added two free throws for 95-87 edge that eventually lifted TNT to its 10th win against two losses.
Barangay Ginebra later rained triples and put up the necessary stops to repulse Rain Or Shine, 97-90, for the Kings’ fourth straight victory and a tie with idle Meralco for fourth place at 6-5.
LA Tenorio led the uprising from 18 points down with a couple of three-pointers late in the fourth while Jayjay Helterbrand and rookie Chris Ellis completed the surge that foiled the Elasto Painters’ bid to inch closer to the frontrunning Tropang Texters.
The Elasto Painters dropped to third at 8-4 behind San Mig Coffee.
“I just picked the right spots and made those shots,” said Alapag, the 2010-2011 season MVP who finished with 18 points.
TNT coach Norman Black credited the 5-foot-9 Alapag for the win that secured for the Texters at least a playoff for the No. 2 spot—and a twice-to-beat incentive in the playoffs.
“One thing we really lacked today was energy,” said Black. “Jimmy just came off the bench, provided the spark and made some big shots. He has really embraced his role in this team.”
Jayson Castro and Ranidel de Ocampo chipped in 16 points each for the Texters, who will likely face the Express (4-8) as the last of eight qualifiers in the playoffs.
The Express mounted a rally in the closing minutes with Mark Isip cutting the lead down to 91-97, but De Ocampo drove in to put the Texters beyond reach, 99-91, time down to 30.5 seconds.
Niño Canaleta sank a three from the corner before Castro set the final score with a free throw.
The Tropang Texters now brace for tough back-to-back games against Petron and Ginebra.
Meanwhile, Petron Blaze downed Barako Bull, 93-83, in an out-of-town game presented by Phoenix Fuel Saturday night in Lucena City.
TALK ‘N TEXT 100—Alapag 18, Castro 16, De Ocampo 16, Fonacier 11, Williams 9, Peek 9, Dillinger 8, Carey 8, Reyes 2, Aban 2, Alvarez 1.
AIR21 94—Cortez 23, Sena 18, Canaleta 13, Isip 9, Arboleda 8, Ritualo 7, Custodio 6, Atkins 4, Reyes 4, Omolon 2, Baclao 0.
Quarters: 20-19, 51-48, 70-69, 100-94
BARANGAY GINEBRA 97—Tenorio 20, Caguioa 18, Ellis 15, Mamaril 12, Wilson 9, Maierhofer 7, Helterbrand 6, Taha 4, Espiritu 2, Raymundo 2, Hatfield 2, Labagala 0.
RAIN OR SHINE 90—Cruz 17, Rodriguez 14, Tang 12, Chan 11, Quinahan 10, Tiu 8, Arana 8, Belga 7, Matias 3, Norwood 0.
Quarters: 20-33, 42-57, 69-75, 97-90