Very few teams get too high or too low with the result of Game 1 of a seven-game championship series—unless that game deals a double blow.
That’s exactly what happened to TNT, which dropped a 100-94 overtime loss to Barangay Ginebra in the opener of the PBA Philippine Cup Finals on Sunday, and then announcing the following day that it could be without its top gun for Game 2.
Ray Parks Jr., TNT’s top scorer and now the leading tournament most valuable player candidate, is highly doubtful for Game 2 after apparently aggravating a calf strain that kept him out of the team’s opening game in the bubble.
The team’s physical therapist, Dex Aseron, confirmed the development to the Inquirer on Tuesday afternoon.
But it hardly matters for coach Tim Cone, whose Barangay Ginebra will be gunning for a 2-0 lead in the race-to-four affair in Wednesday’s Game 2 at Angeles University Foundation (AUF).
“The fact that Parks is doubtful to play does not change our mindset or preparation. We are [continuing] to assume he will play,” Cone said in a message to the Inquirer, shortly after the team’s practice at AUF on Tuesday afternoon.
“In our minds, Game 1 was separated by one free throw. Although we’re thankful for the win, we’re not happy,” he added.
“We know we’re going to have to play a much better, a much tighter game if we’re to have success in this series.”
Parks split his free throws in the stretch, failing to give TNT a three-point cushion and paving the way for Arvin Tolentino to tie the game at 92 to force an extra period.
Parks finished with 20 points, five steals, four rebounds and four assists and was TNT’s biggest weapon on both ends of the floor. Entering the playoffs, Parks led his team in scoring and was No. 2 in rebounding and assists. If he misses Game 2, TNT would be looking at a gaping hole to fill.
And coach Bong Ravena feels he has the pieces to plug that hole.
“Our morale should show no sign of dipping,” he told reporters here. “We have to deal with [the situation], face it head-on.”
Parks missed just one game due to that calf injury and came back strong, tallying 40 points in his return to action. But the injury could be a little bit worse now.
“It’s also the wear-and-tear, considering the level he’s playing,” Ravena said.
Ravena is counting on the likes of RR Pogoy, Poy Eram and Jayson Castro, who is also nursing a sore calf, to pick up the slack in production and also keep the Tropang Giga confident they can level the series.
More importantly, TNT is hoping Troy Rosario emerges from what has been a playoff slump. Rosario averaged 12.2 points and eight rebounds during the elimination phase. In the semifinals, he averaged just 6.6 points and looked to have a breakout Game 1, scoring six points in the opening period. But he had just two points in the second quarter and missed two gimme baskets there before going scoreless in the second half.
TNT has its back to the wall already as it is: According to PBA chief statistician Fidel Mangonon III, the last five times Cone won Game 1 of the Finals, his wards marched on to claim the championship.
The Tropang Giga will only grease that march if they yield Game 2. INQ