Manuel spoils Balkman return
Vic Manuel couldn’t make it to the Luzon lineup for this week’s All-Star series despite a sizzling scoring run in Alaska’s last three victories after an overtime loss at the start of the 2018 Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Commissioner’s Cup.
The 30-year-old forward from Licab, Nueva Ecija, underscored his worth all the more by firing the buzzer-beating game-winner as Alaska edged Renaldo Balkman and San Miguel Beer, 105-103, in Dumaguete City on Saturday to join a three-way tie for the Commissioner’s Cup lead.
Manuel’s floater from the free throw area after earlier slipping past Arwind Santos and Christian Standhardinger spoiled Balkman’s explosive return to the league that had banned him for life in 2013 following an outburst against officiating that led to a choking incident.
The scrambling finish that lifted Alaska to a share of second place with TNT KaTropa at 4-1 also kept SMB winless in three games since nailing a record fourth straight Philippine Cup title last March.
Balkman, a mainstay of the Puerto Rico national team and who took over from Troy Gillenwater, had looked every inch the returning hero with the go-ahead basket in his hands after tying the game at 103-all with 52 seconds left.
But Alaska import Antonio Campbell managed to tap the ball out-of-bounds off the foot of Balkman with 19 ticks left and the turnover eventually doomed the Beermen, who had rallied from 22 points in the third period.
The 6-foot-4 Manuel, who has become an unstoppable operator in the shaded area, finished with a team high 23 points which was impressive considering the tough opposition. He had earlier delivered 29 points against TNT, 26 against Columbian Dyip and 27 against Blackwater. His lowest output was 12 when Alaska lost its opening game to Rain or Shine in overtime, 109-103.
Balkman’s ban was lifted only last March following another plea for forgiveness while he was playing for San Miguel-Alab Pilipinas in the Asean Basketball League, which the Filipino ballclub ruled.
While his return to a team that competed as Petron in 2013 is expected to revive SMB’s fading hopes for another title, the inconsistent performance of what has been described as the best all-Filipino combination in the league is certainly a cause for alarm for coach Leo Austria.
The 6-10 June Mar Fajardo, SMB’s tower of power, who fouled out in a losing game against Rain or Shine, was good for just seven points against Alaska while Alex Cabagnot only had four. While Marcio Lassiter and Santos had flashes of brilliance, ace guard Chris Ross remained missing in offense, even winding up scoreless against the Aces.