BOCAUE, Bulacan - A win which almost everybody thought would take long in coming arrived right in Kia's debut game.
With a host of no-name players playing like stars and playing coach Manny Pacquiao providing the inspiration, the Sorento proved doubters wrong by beating fellow expansion team Blackwater, 80-66, on Sunday at the start of the PBA Philippine Cup.
Pacquiao officially became the oldest rookie in league annals when he started and played a couple of minutes in the first quarter, drawing the most applause from a crowd of 52,000 fans at the Philippine Arena that now stand as the biggest to ever watch a basketball game in the country.
The world boxing champion hardly had any contribution to the victory, but a host of unheralded players led by the diminutive LA Revilla rose to the occasion for a KIA team that received nothing but ridicule in the months leading up to its PBA debut.
Revilla, a former La Salle guard who played no more than three games for GlobalPort in his rookie year, scored 14 of his career-high 23 points in the third quarter when the Sorentos not only wiped out an early 13-point deficit but also pulled away for good.
Pacquiao, who took a commercial flight from General Santos on Sunday just to be able to make it to the season opener, said he simply told the team to relax and calm down after a sloppy first half that saw the Sorentos turn the ball over 14 times.
“First and second quarter, sabog ang opensa at depensa ng team kaya pagkatapos ng second quarter sa dressing room, sabi ko medyo pressured siguro, pero kailangan lang alisin yung pressure and focus lang sa game,” Pacquiao said during the post-game interview.
Kia’s assistant coach Glen Capacio, who handled the team’s preseason preparation, said he never lost faith in his players even though their defense and offense were out of tune during the first 30 minutes of the game.
“Nandiyan yung jitters sa first half, pero grabe yung crowd, halos nabibitawan naming yung bola eh but we stayed positive lang sa halftime, dahil lalabas din ang laro natin,” he said.
Hans Thiele and Reil Cervantes chipped in 13 points apiece for Kia, while playmaker Rudy Lingganay added 11 and five assists.
JP Erram and rookie guard Juami Tiongson scored 10 points apiece to lead Blackwater, which committed an eye-popping 29 turnovers to hasten its downfall.
KIA 80 - Revilla 23, Thiele 13, Cervantes 13, Lingganay 11, Saldua 7, Alvarez 4, Sanga 3, Webb 2, Padilla 2, Buensuceso 1, Ighalo 1, Alonzo 0, Pacquiao 0, Raymundo 0.
BLACKWATER 66 - Tiongson 10, Erram 10, Faundo 6, Nuyles 6, Menor 6, Cawaling 6, Artadi 6, Salvacion 6, Ballesteros 4, Rodriguez 2, Laure 2, Austria 2, Timberlake 0, Gamalinda 0.
Quarterscores: 12-21, 25-34, 63-51, 80-66