For the first time in its young Philippine Basketball Association history the Phoenix Pulse Fuel Masters are in the semifinals of a league tournament.
After making short work of the Alaska Aces in the quarterfinals of the ongoing PBA Philippine Cup, the Fuel Masters assured themselves of a spot in the Final Four.
It was continuation of what has been a solid campaign for Phoenix to date that also saw it topping the elimination round with a 9-2 record to earn the top seed and the twice-to-beat advantage in the quarterfinals, which it found no need to use as it eliminated eighth-seeded Alaska at the first instance.
And the thing about this run by the Fuel Masters, it seems like they are not yet done.
Never mind if in the semifinals they could either face the San Miguel Beermen or TNT KaTropa, the traditional powerhouse teams in the PBA, they have been playing well and have positioned themselves as legit contenders.
Key for the team in the ongoing tournament is the firm grip it has on what it is a team, allowing it more fluidity of play on both ends of the court.
Credit should be given to coach Louie Alas and the rest of the Phoenix think tank for fostering a system where everybody can flourish and contribute.
Confidence, as exemplified by the triumvirate of Calvin Abueva, Matthew Wright and Jason Perkins, has done wonders for the team as well.
Abueva has given team the spunk it needed since joining the team last season, this is apart from his solid numbers of 15.2 points, 11.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.2 steals and a block a game to help Phoenix take any challenge head-on in the Philippine Cup.
Wright has been steady as well for 18.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg and 4.6 apg while Perkins (13 ppg and 7.9 rpg), last season’s rookie of the year, has been rising some more in his second year.
Through the lead of the three, the rest of team is also responding.
Guys like Justin Chua, RJ Jazul, Alex Mallari, LA Revilla, Dave Marcelo, Jaypee Mendoza and Doug Kramer never fail to contribute each time they are fielded in on the court.
With more legs to draw a sustained fight from, the sight of a team that gets rattled or has it eyes wide open when a difficult challenge stares it on the face is no longer the case for Phoenix.
When you punch, the Fuel Masters punch. When you kick, they kick back.
That has been the case for the team in its first 12 games as they churn out an impressive .833 winning percentage.
At this point, it is anybody’s guess how far Phoenix would go in the Philippine Cup. But it has made a strong claim at going deeper up to this stage of the competition. Legit contenders, you say? Sure the Fuel Masters are.
Michael Angelo S. Murillo has been a columnist since 2003. He is a BusinessWorld reporter covering the Sports beat.