AS he drained his only triple on Wednesday early in the fourth from the left wing over James Yap – of all people, PJ Simon backpedaled to the other side of the court and meekly pumped his right fist, his celebration moderated as it came against his longtime teammate.
But that didn’t stop him from continuing to exploit the familiar matchup. Right in the next offensive possession, he blew by Yap on the same wing, scored a tough layup over Beau Belga, drew a foul against the burly Rain or Shine big man, then hit the free throw to complete the three-point play.
Just like that, the one-man 6-0 run sparked Star’s breakaway against Rain or Shine on the way to an 84-69 victory that swept the defending champions out of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup playoffs.
After being Purefoods teammates for more than a decade or 12 years, Simon and Yap faced each other in a playoff series for the first time this week.
And give the first round of their brewing matchup to Simon.
“Kakaiba nga 'yung pakiramdam dahil ngayon, kami na nagkakabantayan, but alam naman namin na trabaho lang yun,” Simon said in a chat with SPIN.ph a day after the game. “Exciting din dahil pareho namin alam yung laro ng isa’t-isa.”
“Sinabi lang namin na, ‘Laro lang tayo. Bigay lang natin yung best natin,’” he added. “Nagkataon lang na kami yung nanalo kaya kami yung medyo masaya. But for sure, babawi din yun sila.”
“Syempre pagkatapos ng game, wala naman nagbago eh,” he continued.
Yap shared his longtime teammate’s sentiment, well aware Simon didn’t take anything personal.
“Ganun naman si PJ talaga lagi eh, kahit hindi naman ako (ang bantay),” Yap said after the game. “Every time na pinapasok siya, binibigay niya yung best niya. Kaya naging PJ Simon yun kasi binibigay niya yung best niya every game.”
Simon, who finished with nine points on 3-of-6 shooting, and one assist in 17 minutes in only his sixth start this conference, knew the mixed reactions of their fans who saw them shadowing each other.
“May mga ibang fans na natutuwa na kami yung nagkakabantayan; yung iba naman, nalulungkot,” Simon said. “Pero at the end of the day, wala naman dapat kaming i-prove sa isa’t-isa.”
Now through to the semifinals – and no emotional baggage with any San Miguel Beer player, Simon vowed to bring the same efficiency in spurts for the Hotshots.
“At this point of my career, alam ko na kasi yung role ko eh: ganun-ganun lang, sundot-sundot lang. match up-match up lang,” the 13-year veteran, who turned 37 last June 1, said. “Importante, nakikita ko yung success ng aking mga teammates.”
“Sobrang bright future ang nangyari dito sa Star kasi ang ba-bata pa nila and ang gagaling na, so hopefully magtuloy-tuloy,” he added. “Kayang-kaya na nila. Nandito lang ako para to support sa kanila at mag-guide sa kanila.”
Hotshost coach Chito Victolero expects nothing less from his elder statesman.
“Sometimes, he comes off the bench, sometimes, mag-start siya, but always, he’s consistent,” Victolero said after practice. “Just like last game na hirap na hirap kami maka-score, and then all of a sudden, six straight points agad si PJ, so yun yung mga nakukuha namin sa kanya.”
“Pine-pace ko lang din yung ano niya … syempre, hindi mo na siya pwede palaruin ng ganun katagal dahil alam mo naman, medyo ano na din,” he admitted. “At the same time, yung system ko din, medyo parang full court eh, so we give equal opportunity dun sa mga ibang players.”
So while Paul Lee, Mark Barroca, Jio Jalalon, and Allein Maliksi do most of the damage from the backcourt, don’t forget about Simon – or else pay the price.