COINCIDENCE or not, but Dondon Hontiveros and Chris Banchero obviously played ‘inspired ballgame’ for Alaska against San Miguel in the opener of their PBA Philippine Cup Finals Wednesday.
Although the two tried to down play their performance in the Aces’ amazing 88-82 come-from-behind win in overtime, Alaska deputy coach Louie Alas bared it is normal for both Hontiveros and Banchero to play at a much higher level against San Miguel, a proud, multi-titled franchise from which both players once belonged.
“Controlled aggression yan nung dalawa eh. Naging player din ako. Kaya alam ko na when you face your former team, mas may gusto kang patunayan. And it showed with how they led us to victory nung Game One,” said Alas, who’s ACL injury prevented him from playing in the pro league after being drafted by Purefoods in the early 90s.
Hontiveros was a long-time Beerman and played for the team from 2003 to 2011 when he was surprisingly shipped by the ballclub to Air21.
Banchero meanwhile, teamed-up with Asi Taulava to lead San Miguel to the 2013 Asean Basketball League (ABL) championship, with no less than Leo Austria calling the shots for the team.
But San Miguel passed on the chance to pick Banchero in the last Rookie Draft with the no. 3 pick, which they used to get Ronald Pascual.
Instead, the Fil-Italian guard ended up as the no. 5 overall selection for Alaska.
Both Hontiveros and Banchero made it clear before the start of the best-of-seven title series they have no axe to grind against their former team.
Hontiveros though admitted being thrilled playing against the new stars of the Beermen.
Banchero also said he was happy to have played his breakout game in the pro league against San Miguel, though it has nothing to do with the ‘past.’
“I am not gonna say that I am more inspired to play against them (Beermen). Regardless of who I am playing with, I am going to play hard,” said the 25-year-old rookie.
“This is the Finals, winning here is far different from the other ones. I just made what coach wanted me to do and that is to make my presence felt,” he added.
Banchero served as one of the sparkplugs in Alaska’s stunning Game One win that saw the Aces rallied from as much as a 22-point deficit.
The Alaska rookie scored timely points off transition plays, while Hontiveros buried a crucial three-pointer in overtime that put the Aces in command.
Alas and the rest of the Alaska coaching staff said the team should gain more with the way Hontiveros and Banchero had been playing.
“I cannot discount the contributions of the other players, pero I just want to pinpoint the timing of Dondon and Chris when they exploded. Yun ang nagsilbing turning point ng panalo namin,” said the former Adamson Falcon.
Meanwhile, coach Leo Austria could only shake his head upon recalling the crucial plays made by Banchero in the fourth quarter that completed Alaska’s comeback.
Austria conceded about the capabilities of his former player in the ABL.
“Alam ko naman na may kalibre si Chris. Hindi ako nagulat sa inilaro niya. Alam ko anytime mag-e-explode siya, dahil hinawakan ko siya at alam ko ang goal niya eh,” said Austria, who still believes Banchero is professional enough to accept San Miguel’s decision to bypass him in the last Rookie Draft.
“Talagang sinasabi ko rin sa mga players ko na bantayan nila mga yun (Hontiveros and Banchero), dahil mas lalaro ng magaganda mga yun.
“Well motivated naman talaga sila eh. Even if they are not against our team, this is the championship. This is their turn to shine. They are professionals. Alam naman nila kanya-kanyang diskarte yan,” he said.
“Even Dondon, galing siya dito. Kaya hindi ako nagulat na lumaro sila nang husto.”