Days after Phoenix opened the brand new season with a shocking loss to Blackwater, coach Ariel Vanguardia took it upon himself to tweak his starting five as the Fuel Masters clashed with defending Philippine Cup champion San Miguel Beermen on Wednesday.
Rookie Matthew Wright started in place of veteran wingman JC Intal, who was relegated to an off-the-bench role.
While the bench role puzzled Intal at first, the 33-year-old forward came mentally prepared when he was sent in to spell Wright, churning out 10 quick points in the opening period as Phoenix took an early 9-point lead.
The former Ateneo high-flyer wasn’t done as he added 12 more in the next 3 quarters, including 5 crucial points late in the game when the Beermen made their last-ditch stand to complete the Fuel Masters’ 92-85 reversal against the reigning All-Filipino champions.
“Sinabi namin, di naman dahil di ka (Intal) starter, di ka maglalaro ng major minutes. He was up to the challenge and he responded,” Vanguardia said, referring to Intal’s backup role against the Beermen. “He’s considered the franchise player of this team and he responded.”
“JC had a breakout game we’ve been waiting for since he’s coming back from injury,” beamed Vanguardia. “We have him on the bench so nawala yung gigil niya.”
Intal said he had no problem with Vanguardia’s move, saying he’s ready to fulfill any role he’s given.
“Sa akin kasi we had a bad start nung first game so I think shinuffle ng konti ni coach,” explained Intal. “I respect his decision, I trust his decision na i-off the bench (ako).”
But asked if his performance reflects his eagerness to return to the starting five, Intal gracefully denied it.
“Di naman. Lahat ng players gusto mag-start, pero na kay coach Ariel kung gusto niya ako i-start,” he replied.
Phoenix takes a 3-day off before returning to action on Sunday to face winless Mahindra at the Mall of Asia Arena. — Jason Mercene
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