MANILA: GRACE B. CASTILLO
Published — Monday 4 March 2013
Last update 4 March 2013 2:09 am
Petron Blaze and Renaldo Balkman continue to play sweet music together.
The talented NBA veteran last night bailed the injury-riddled Boosters out yet again, playing big in the crunch in a 91-78 decision of Barako Bull that gave Petron Blaze its fifth straight victory in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup at the Araneta Coliseum.
Smallest among all the imports at just a shade under 6-feet-7, Balkman finished with 33 points, 14 rebounds, four steals and the same number of blocks as the Boosters kept on rolling and gathered more steam in their anticipated showdown with league-leader Alaska this week.
Petron missed the services of Alex Cabagnot, Chris Lutz and Danny Ildefonso because of injuries and rode the shoulders of Balkman, who scored 17 of his total in the first half, to gain control early.
“I may be the shortest import here, but I have the stoutest heart,” Balkman, who saw action for Puerto Rico as a naturalized player in the 2010 World Championship, said. “If there’s a challenge in front of me, I am going to take it.” Balkman crowded the middle with reckless abandon for the Boosters in the second quarter, anchoring a Petron defense that held the Energy to just 11 points in the period to take an 18-point lead into the third quarter.
“It was a total team effort for everyone, led of course by our import,” coach Olsen Racela said after his squad rose to 5-1 and dealt the Energy a second straight defeat in a 3-3 card. “He has become the leader of this team and his energy has obviously rubbed off on everyone.” Petron went on to take leads of as many as 25 points late in the fourth only for the Energy to mount a last-ditch rally that gave the final score some respect.
Ronald Tubid became the 66th member of the 5,000-point club, connecting on a rare four-point play late in the game for an 83-66 lead. The 6-foot-2 swingman is the ninth player from the San Miguel franchise to join the elite club.
The game also marked the first time that Petron went up against Rajko Toroman, the Barako Bull consultant who debuted as a PBA head coach with the Boosters at the start of the season.
Evidently, the Boosters knew some of Rajko’s plays and were up to them all.
“The thing with coach Rajko’s system is execution. He runs a lot of plays but it helped that players are familiar with them,” said Racela, who was Toroman’s chief assistant in the Serbian’s brief stint with the Boosters.
Evan Brock led the Energy with 20 points and 24 rebounds, with Danny Seigle adding 17.
And while Balkman has been the main reason why the Boosters are on a magnificent run, Rain or Shine streaked to a fourth straight win later in the night by using the second-best all-Filipino crew to run over Barangay Ginebra.
With 7-foot-3 import Bruno Sundov again saddled by fouls, coach Yeng Guiao turned to his locals in posting a 96-93 decision of the Gin Kings for a 4-1 slate that kept the Elasto Painters within striking distance of the lead.
Sundov fouled out with still over three minutes left, and Beau Belga plugged the hole by connecting on some crucial baskets that eventually sealed the Kings’ fifth defeat in six starts.
“Sometimes, I don’t understand what’s a foul and what’s not a foul. Our import is probably having the same problem, ” said Guiao, who was slapped a technical foul in the second quarter for contesting a call on Sundov.
“But again, credit goes to the locals for stepping up and working hard to make up for the absence of our import,’” he added.
Belga scored 18 points and four other locals scored at least 11 even as Vernon Macklin led the Kings with 27 points.
Ginebra, which started 0-3 with original import pick Herbert Hill, is now 1-2 with Macklin around.