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WHIPPING THE BOSS

Alaska crushes Blackwater squad seeking identity after dealing away star

/ 05:20 AM July 17, 2021

Mike DiGregorio fires a jumper for the Aces. The sweet-shooting guard came alive in the second half to power Alaska past Blackwater. —PHOTO COURTESY OF PBA IMAGES

Rain or Shine (ROS) looked to build on a culture established by the guy on the opposite side of the court and beat NLEX, 83-82, as the Philippine Basketball Association finally opened its 46th Season on Friday at Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig, where there were a lot of storylines to unpack.

Kiefer Ravena suited up for NLEX, coming up huge in a losing effort. Greg Slaughter declared himself ready to play for new team NorthPort but sat the game out against Meralco.

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And then there was Alaska, which established a tone of sorts not just for itself, but for a Blackwater team that won just twice last season and then dealt away its best player in the offseason. What happened on both teams’ debuts was pretty much what you could expect: The Aces bossed around the Bossing, forging a 103-77 victory in the season-opening match that gave Blackwater an idea on the challenges facing the team after it dealt Mac Belo to Meralco in the offseason.

Belo and Meralco hammered the Batang Pier, 85-63, in the nightcap.

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Rey Nambatac and Beau Belga took turns at keeping the Painters ahead late as Javee Mocon and the rest of the squad put together a swarming defense to thwart the Road Warriors’ last-second try at a comeback.

“I always say that defense is in our DNA in Rain or Shine, ever since,” said coach Chris Gavina, who took over Caloy Garcia last March.

Garcia was a defense-first coach for the Elasto Painters, a trait he absorbed from the squad’s original tactician, Yeng Guiao. Guiao is the current NLEX coach.

“Even in the bubble. I believe we were No. 1 in several different defensive categories, and we take pride in that,” Gavina added. “We’ve kind of just taken that momentum on the defensive side into this season. Coach Caloy really set the foundation and I’m just here to kind of sustain that.”

Nambatac led Rain or Shine with 19 points and eight rebounds, while Belga tossed in 17 that went with seven boards.

Mocon added 12 more to go with a fine defensive outing of two steals and a block, including the stand that bothered NLEX forward Anthony Semerad in the end.

NLEX got the goods from Ravena, who had 23 points, including a bold shot from near the half-court logo that brought the Road Warriors within one, 83-82, with 19 ticks remaining.

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Ravena was a subject of a controversy when he signed on to play in the Japanese B.League despite having a live contract with the Painters. His presence in the game, literally and figuratively, puts a lid on that drama for now.

Mike DiGregorio scored 17 of his 20 points in the second half as the Aces carved out the league’s most lopsided opening game result since Mobiline (now TNT) trashed defunct club Tanduay by 34 to open the 1999 Philippine Cup.

The Aces also drew timely baskets from big men Abu Tratter and Yousef Taha, who combined for 29 points, eventually easing coach Jeff Cariaso’s pregame worries.

“To be honest, I couldn’t sleep last night because of the uncertainty of how we are going to look today,” Cariaso said. “It was tiring playing against each other. You wouldn’t know how good or bad you are. So my challenge was to really just share the ball on offense and defend the best way we can.”

Much of Cariaso’s uncertainty was centered on the team having to deal away a disgruntled Vic Manuel, the team’s best player, in the offseason.

Looking for an identity, Blackwater turned to Simon Enciso, who had a torrid first half and wound up with 23 points to lead the Bossing.

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TAGS: 46th season, Alaska, Blackwater, Philippine Basketball Association
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