CHICAGO - It had been a long, and mostly lonesome, 124 days since Tony Bishop landed in the Philippines to reinforce the Meralco Bolts in the PBA Governors' Cup.
He arrived in late November, just in time for Christmas, and he's still there as another holiday - Easter - looms in the horizon.
Obviously, this 6-foot-6, 220-pound teddy bear yearns for those precious moments where he can spend time with his three kids or take his gorgeous fiance out on a date night.
'Heaven can wait'
As delicious as those possibilities are, Tony Bishop insists that Texas, like heaven, can wait.
"I'm not ready to go home yet. Have to take care of business first," he told me in a telephone interview last night.
Business, of course, is that little thing called Game 5 of the Meralco-Magnolia semifinals series decider that plays out this evening at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
A leading Best Import candidate with robust averages of 28.4 points, 13.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game during the eliminations, Bishop has been neutralized by the swarming, menacing Hotshots defense.
After shooting 49 percent from the field and 46 percent from 3 before the playoffs, Magnolia has held Bishop to just 35.2 percent from the field (25 of 71) and 24 percent from long distance (6-of-25).
While he is still a workhorse on the boards with 52 rebounds in the series and a threat on defense with his length and tenacity. Bishop. a mainstay in the Panamanian national team, has piled up an uncharacteristic 17 turnovers in four games.
But great players are adorable amnesiacs who have the facility to shed uncomfortable memories in a minute and then move on quickly to the next game for them.
"I need to get the job done. It's do or die," said the 32-year old former NBA D League campaigner and hoops ambassador who has spread the gospel of basketball in countries such as Japan, Puerto Rico, Denmark and Romania.
Hampered by an "upper body injury" that limited his Game 4 appearance to 17 minutes and 38 seconds, Chris Banchero is a game time decision for tonight's tiff and I asked Bishop if the uncertainty had opened the doors for anxiety.
NOT AT ALL.
"Chris is big piece to our team. If he is good to go, that's fantastic. If not, then it's next man up and we trust in that."
Needless to say, Bishop will do everything in his earthly powers to carry the Bolts to the next round.
And if he succeeds, he will be richly rewarded with a $50,000 "entering the finals" bonus, the same perk that awaits Mike Harris of Magnolia, a source told SPIN.ph.
So, who wins Game 5?
I have no horse in this race. i'm friendly with both coach Norman Black and Chito Victolero who have been kind and gracious in giving me access to interview them during the course of this conference.
So I'll be equally happy for the victor and sad for the vanquished.
What I can say, though, is that there are no longer surprises this deep in this series. Whoever executes better and makes less errors will advance to final round where crowd favorite Barangay Ginebra awaits.
X-FACTORS. After starring in Meralco's Game 2 win, sizzling with 18 points on 6-of-13 shooting, Chris Newsome has faded in Game 3 and 4, producing only a combined 22 points while missing 17 of his 25 field goals.
Newsome needs to play lights out for the Bolts to seize Game 5.
On the Magnolia side, Jio Jalalon has to continue his superb play while Calvin Abueva must stay out of foul trouble to set himself up for another fine 11-point, 8-rebound effort that netter him the Best Player of the Game award in Game 4.
May the best team wins.
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