One smile and suddenly nobody else will do - An Eagles Nest special by A.R.Samson
Admit it. You were sipping coffee at 3pm waiting for the gates to open and all you prayed for was a decent game, yes a moral victory--we tried our best. Can this team that must not be...oh what the heck, can the Green Archers that won by a total of 96 points in their last three outings beat the Blue Eagles, maybe by fifty? They're sure gonna try. Maybe they'll miss some foul shots. Anyway, we just needed one more win out of the last four games to make the F4, it didn't have to be this one. But why not?
Already, overheard conversations at the same cafe' between two green shirts, reported by Friend B (it was just the next table and the guy was talking a little too loudly if only for his intended listener) anticipated the boredom they were about to suffer--all we'll do throughout the game will be eating popcorn, we better get a big bucket. Well, I'm pretty sure at the end of the game, the bucket was only half empty...or still half-full. It's how you look at the quiddity of it. It's just popcorn after all.
Trivia: In the last 17 years, the alumni office reports that of all the games between these two arch-rivals, this one has received the fewest (make that zero) number of calls for tickets. Need we say more about angst and low expectations? Many probably preferred to watch on TV or just check the news afterwards. What's for dinner?
We weren't expecting much.
We would have settled for bread and water; but we got a multiplication of the loaves. They were expecting a sunny afternoon with okay maybe a light drizzle. Did they prepare for the roof to get blown off? What is worse than mayhem? What about Russell Crowe's command in "Gladiator"--unleash hell? And what's with the haircut, guys? How do you fix that now?
It started predictably enough. Tip off goes to the Green Archers with a quick swish from the perimeter to start, 3-0. Just another day at the office for this team. What made this look a bit different is that the lead did not go on to balloon. There was some give and take and after the Blue Eagles took the lead at 13-12, it was to be the first and last lead change for the rest of the game. The lead held for four quarters: 23-16; 44-36; 61-50; 83-71. There even was a gradual padding away each quarter pushing the lead higher and ending with the final 12-point win. At one point in the late fourth quarter, the scoring gap reached 76-58.
Even at the end of the first half, the lead of 8 points was not comfortable enough and the washroom break wish of the Blues was to just forget the second half and declare the game over. Sure enough at the start of the third quarter, the vaunted mayhem cut the lead to three with the usual two-handed stuff, hanging on to the rim for two beats, feet swinging up maybe to test the strength of the board if it can take the weight of a swinging grown man with his teeth bared. Chest thump here, the score at 46-43. The lead was down to three, one possession game. There must have been a big thought balloon right there--here it comes, folks! Back to the popcorn? But wait, hold it right there. Yes, after the timeout, calm and copacetic feelings returned with an 8-0 run from the Blue Eagles to bring the score to a clenched-butt releasing, 54-43. (Roar of the crowd here.)
Here are seven things that went right for this Blue Eagle game:
1) Surprisingly, the Blue Eagles out-rebounded the other team 48-43. This was due to the effective boxing out of the other center and a gang banging of the boards. In one possession when a missed shot had to be put back, the Blue Eagles needed four rebounds (yes, the number after three) to put in the deuce. One loud cheer from the Blues after each rebound. The 44 others were a blur. But the spectacle of a player in white with the ball after a missed shot was as amazing as the sighting of the fireflies at sunset in Puerto Princesa.
2) Breaking the press has turned into a new art form. It's no longer a matter of crossing the half-line under eight seconds and then passing the ball around at half court. It's now about being able to hurl an outlet pass from the back into the hands of a player running for the shaded area doing an extra pass to a waiting and unguarded team mate for an easy lay-up. Remember those inside shots that are almost forbidden by this hulking team with its strong interior defense. The full court press (yes, the one they call mayhem defense) that triple teams the ball handler at the back court risks an open front court for those long passes and balletic ball movement to the open man...and the sure basket. It's poetry, folks...with rhyme.
3) Point production again is spread out. Aaron Black is back to his old form and top scored (a second time) with 16 points, mostly with drives to the basket and put-backs from rebounds. Also, three other players ended up with double digits--Matt Nieto, 15; Wong, 11; Go, 10, also with taps near the rim plus two important foul shots toward the end when there were still signs of life in the gecko--the tail was moving slightly. What about the 9 points of Assistio, three triples, with the last one having him bring the ball just a little across the line and then pausing a bit before the defense could organize--is this a good place to heave a rainbow shot? Yes, it is. While the final score of 83 for the Blue Eagles is only two points higher than their score in the losing first round game, it was the other end of their game that clicked. Still the FG percentage of the Blues was 51%.
4) What about that defense? The Greenies managed a field goal percentage of only 29% or 23 out of 80 attempts, which is actually rounded off from 28.75%. At their final output of 71, this is the Greenies lowest score in the season (they averaged 90.8 points in their first 12 games which formed part of the halted sweep of 12 wins and no losses). Their coach wanted to see squirming foes that have lost all their appetite for living, as his team routinely ran over already half-dead bodies in their zeal to master the intricacies of a scoring juggernaut. The stingy defense (unleash hell) of the Blue Eagles resulted in 20 turnovers for the Greens with 26 Blue Eagle points off those turnovers. Wait, are those our guys in the light colored uniforms? Was the script for this movie somehow switched?
5) Coach Tab mentioned the composure of the team. Yes, folks, they did not collapse in a heap after that monster show-reel dunk (see above). That was supposed to be the flare that would exhort the troops for the assault, the trigger for the frenzied steal-and-shoot portion of this story. Didn't happen. The fire in the eyes of the Blue Eagles was not panic but determination--this is not going to get away from us. This is the team we will beat to get a firm spot with no playoffs in the semis.
6) The stands were in it body and soul. The Babble Gang had their crowd, okay with sponge-like holes in that mass with empty seats. But the warm bodies that were there were on their feet and their screams and rhythmic chants were coming all the way from their toes. They too were swooping down on the foe and giving their team...what else can you call it, their love. It was a noisy declaration of affection, a cry from the heart, a scream of catharsis, a cleansing fire of redemption and affirmation. (Okay, stop me, I'm getting carried away here. Give me some popcorn please.)
7) We're getting greedy now. So much for managing expectations. For the second round, the record is 3-1. The unexpected loss in the first game seemed to be what the doctor ordered--the kindling of a do-or-die spirit that swept through the last three games where the total winning margin now is 41 points. That's a double-digit lead for all three: 14 (versus UE); 15 (over NU); and now 12 points over the about-to-sweep team, which to set the record straight is still a formidable 12-1 leader. Yeah, right. I'm trying not to gloat here, folks. Help me out. But are we dreaming of the finals? You bet. As the UAAP motto for season 79 puts it: dare to have nightmares. The team is building momentum to the ultimate goal. It's time to be demented again.
I'm almost forgetting our eponymous line from a song. Before the game, I was checking out dirges in Latin like a thirteenth century hymn, like Dies Irae perhaps. I confess to you my brothers and sisters that I doubted that we could pull off an upset, definitely not an all-quarter end-to-end triumph. So I had to scramble for a more upbeat song that of course has nothing to do with basketball.
The line is from "One", the finale of "A Chorus Line" which is a 1975 musical about dancers auditioning for the chorus line. The play also had another memorable song, "What I did for love". Anyway, isn't this song about a team that sings, dances, and kicks in a straight line fitting for players that subsume their star power and give it to the moment and the free shooter, following a routine that ensures the best possible shot? Yeah...it's a stretch. But why not?
"One singular sensation, every little step she takes/ One thrilling combination, every move that she makes/ One smile and suddenly nobody else will do/ You know you'll never be lonely with you-know-who."
This is the glittery spangled ending and the curtain call for the musical that features the ensemble dressed alike and singing and kicking in a straight line. The audience gets on its feet, giving the cast a standing ovation at this point. Now, do you see the similarity here? Do I have to connect the dots?
Truly the Blues were up on their feet, filled with a desire to be a better person, to use the discarded ticket or this game as a bookmark for Marcus Aurelius's "Meditations", and to embrace this wonderful team with nine players out of the 16 coming from the Ateneo high school team. This team with its winning ways can make a grown man cry...for more.
On to the fray. OBF.
Photos courtesy of JCLapuz, Fabilioh.com