IMPORTS in the PBA are held at such high regard that one truly must deliver if he wants to stay in the league.
That cut-throat nature of the job couldn’t be any more prevalent this 2018 PBA Commissioner’s Cup as eight teams have already flown in replacements to their reinforcements.
And for Reggie Johnson, one of the four remaining first-choice imports in the league, as much as his goal is to help Rain or Shine hoist the title at the end of the conference, he also doesn’t want to see his counterparts receive a pink slip.
That’s why after the Elasto Painters’ 99-96 overtime win over Magnolia, he shared a lengthy hug with debuting import Curtis Kelly and gave him some advice.
“That was just me welcoming him to the league. I try to show all imports love,” he said. “In this league, I think eight imports have already been replaced. It's unfortunate, you know, so I just welcomed him to the league.”
Johnson admits that the game marked the first time he ever met Kelly, but he had a college teammate who played with the new Hotshots reinforcement in the past.
“I never met him, but he actually played with a college teammate of mine named Malcolm Grant. That's pretty much it,” he said.
In their duel on Saturday, the burly Johnson was able to deliver his usual numbers, posting 23 points, 18 rebounds, four assists, and two blocks to help Rain or Shine snatch the tight win.
Kelly, on the other hand, collected 19 points, 15 rebounds, three assists, two steals, and a block in his first game in the PBA.
However, those stats were dampened by his paltry 8-of-20 shooting from the field as well as his two crucial turnovers in the late stages in the game. With the game tied at 88 with 3.1 left in regulation, Kelly lost hold of the ball as the game went to overtime. That was the case again in the extra period, as he turned the ball over anew in the final minute in a possession which could have given Magnolia the lead.
Seeing Kelly’s blunders in those moments, Johnson only hopes that his counterpart bounces back, saying, “He gotta play well to keep his job.”
As for him, the 28-year-old slotman is happy to have kept Rain or Shine on top of the standings at 6-1 as they inch closer on nabbing that top two spot in the quarterfinals.
“It was a big win for us. Right now, a lot of teams at the top are winning. TNT won, Alaska won, so it was a big win for us,” he said, as the Elasto Painters remain head above water over their closest pursuants.
But Johnson knows that nothing easy is given in this league, and Rain or Shine must step up to the big boys if it wants to achieve its goal of winning it all.
“We got our work cut out for us. Work is still to be done but we're definitely angling for the top two,” he said before brazenly laying down the challenge to the powerhouse teams.
“Our goal is to win the championship, I'm not afraid to say it. I know you guys love San Miguel and Ginebra, that's y’all. But my favorite team is Rain or Shine and I'm going for the championship.”