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MANILA, Philippines - All the marbles are up for grabs in the winner-take-all Game 5 of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup semifinal series between Talk ‘N’ Text and Ginebra San Miguel at the Smart Araneta Coliseum tonight with the oddsmakers unsure of which team is favored because of the unpredictability of the opposing imports.
The Texters are bannered by prolific 6-5 Tony Mitchell of Alabama while Ginebra’s import is 6-10 Vernon Macklin of Georgetown and Florida. Because of the height disparity, they’re not matched up against each other, putting a lot of pressure on the locals responsible for dealing with them.
Mitchell made his PBA debut in Game 3 last Wednesday and promptly, delivered 29 points to lead the Texters to a 98-80 win. In Game 4 last Friday, he erupted for 45 points but missed his last five attempts in the Tropa’s 104-101 loss to Ginebra. Mitchell went 0-of-8 from three-point range and committed eight turnovers. The bright spot was Mitchell issued five assists, indicating a growing familiarity with his new teammates in only his second PBA outing.
As for Macklin, it’s clear that Ginebra relies heavily on his firepower to win. In Ginebra’s two wins in the Texters series, he hit at a 31 point clip but in the two losses, it was down to only 16 – the differential of 15 was decisive because the Barangay’s average losing margin was 12. Since his arrival to replace original import Herbert Hill, Ginebra has posted an 11-6 record. In the Barangay’s 11 wins with Macklin, he averaged 26.5 points. In the six setbacks, he averaged 19. Ginebra is 4-0 with Macklin scoring at least 30.
Although Mitchell broke out with 45 points in Game 4, he was visibly bothered by Rudy Hatfield’s defense down the stretch. Hatfield didn’t play in Game 3 to rest an injured ankle so Mitchell got his first taste of the H-Bomb’s tenacious defense last Friday.
There’s no question Mitchell is a phenomenal scorer and even coach Norman Black said he’s somewhat like import legend Tony (Hurricane) Harris who scored 105 points in a PBA game in 1992. For sure, he’ll be the yardstick in the coming Governors Cup where the height limit for imports is 6-5. But in the Commissioner’s Cup where there is no height limit for imports, he’s undersized. Mitchell, however, plays a lot bigger than his size and showed it in Game 4 where he was outrebounded by Macklin by only one board.
Both Macklin and Mitchell will be severely tested in Game 5 tonight. If their teams’ chances to survive hinge on how they perform, all eyes will be on the two imports. Macklin will be defended by Ali Peek whose bulk has a softening impact on those he tries to depose from their comfort spot at the post. Peek is a tough post defender who’ll stand his ground even against an imposing presence like Macklin. Mitchell will be shadowed by Hatfield. Chris Ellis was Mitchell’s primary defender in Game 3 but coach Alfrancis Chua would prefer the Air Force taking a lead role in offense as an energizer rather than in defense as a stopper.
Mitchell, 23, is the youngest import in the conference and gained valuable maturity in the NBA D-League where he was the top rookie this past season. At Alabama, Mitchell acted like a prima donna at times, causing some alienation in the team. His lack of maturity eventually led to a suspension. Alabama varsity coach Anthony Grant wouldn’t tolerate Mitchell’s “conduct detrimental to the team” and ditched him after a 15-7 start in his junior 2011-12 season. He was suspended indefinitely and never reinstated. Mitchell then left the Alabama campus and tried his luck in the NBA draft but wasn’t picked. He had a tryout with the Sacramento Kings and averaged 11.4 points in five summer league games but never made it to the regular season lineup.
Mitchell, a Kevin Durant Skills Academy graduate, never experienced playing in the NCAA Tournament in 2 1/2 years of college basketball. As a sophomore in 2010-11, he was on the Alabama squad that lost a 66-57 decision to Wichita State in the NIT (National Invitation Tournament) championship game. That season unveiled Mitchell at his best, scoring at least 20 points in seven of Alabama’s last 16 games, including 22 against Vanderbilt, 23 against Mississippi State, 24 against Tennessee and 27 against Arkansas. Mitchell was second on his team in scoring and rebounding, second in offensive boards and steals, third in blocked shots and first in field goal percentage (.522) – he earned a reputation as a do-it-all operator.
Macklin, 26, enjoyed a richer career in two years with Georgetown and two years with Florida, seeing action in the NCAA Tournament each season. He played with Division I teams that compiled a combined 108-34 record so he’s not used to losing. Unlike Mitchell, Macklin was picked in the NBA draft, on the second round by Detroit. Last season, he scored 46 points in 23 games with the Pistons on a reportedly salary of $473,604. Macklin gained recognition in media for earning a sociology degree at Florida and dating “Basketball Wives” reality star and Rashard Lewis’ former girlfriend Brooke Bailey.
Pro Basketball Prospectus said Macklin’s style resembles the way Reggie Evans, Jeff Foster, Anderson Varejao and Vladimir Stepania play. During his brief NBA career, Prospectus said “he flashed some nice energy on defense and finished accurately around the rim on offense.” Macklin shot .543 from the floor and .571 from the line with the Pistons.
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