Travis mimics pal LeBron
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - November 18, 2018 - 12:00am

There was a lot of LeBron James in the way his high school teammate and buddy Romeo Travis played in Magnolia’s 112-108 win over Barangay Ginebra in the clinching Game 4 of the PBA Governors Cup best-of-five semifinals at the Ynares Center in Antipolo last Friday night.

Travis, 33, erupted for 50 points, 21 in the fourth period, as the Hotshots ended Ginebra’s hopes of a third conference grand slam. Ginebra had won the 2016 and 2017 Governors Cup with coach Tim Cone and import Justin Brownlee. In the semifinals, Magnolia raced to a 2-0 lead, endured a bump in Game 3 which Ginebra took then wrapped it up in Game 4. Ginebra desperately tried to force a Game 5 showdown in Biñan – that would’ve been set tonight – but it wasn’t meant to be.

Magnolia assistant coach Juno Sauler described Travis’ performance as incredible. Actually, it was more than incredible. It was unbelievable considering Travis was a game-time decision whether to play or not. In Game 3, Travis suffered a strain in his hamstring and hobbled to a 12-point showing as Ginebra won, 107-103. It was Travis’ lowest output all conference long. In contrast, Brownlee swashbuckled his way to 46 points, 19 rebounds and five assists.

Travis underwent treatment on his hamstring the day after Game 3 and the morning of Game 4. His situation was day-to-day, according to Magnolia’s PTs. Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Jose Raul Canlas administered PRP (platelet rich plasma) on Travis last Friday morning and placed him on a wait-and-see watch. 

The situation was so iffy that Magnolia thought of signing up former La Salle center Ben Mbala as an interim import. Mbala arrived in Manila last Thursday from Seoul after his spot on the Seoul Samsung Thunder roster was taken over by former Phoenix import Eugene Phelps in the Korean league. Mbala averaged 23.9 points and 9.8 rebounds in 13 games for the Thunder but while his stats were impressive, the team was ninth of 10 with a 4-9 record. 

Magnolia staff accompanied Mbala to the PBA office for an unofficial measurement in case Travis would be ruled out to play in a possible Game 5. Mbala made the 6-5 height limit. If Ginebra won Game 4, Travis would’ve been reassessed and if doctors ruled out playing, Mbala would’ve played in his place in Game 5. As it turned out, Travis made sure there would be no Game 5.

Mbala is in town until next Friday. He’s booked to play for Cameroon in the FIBA Africa World Cup Qualifiers fifth window. Cameroon’s games are against Angola on Nov. 30, Morocco on Dec. 1 and Egypt on Dec. 2, all in Luanda, Angola. After the FIBA games, Mbala will decide where to play next. His options are leagues in France, Turkey and Italy. If Magnolia calls for Mbala to play even on an interim basis in the finals, he’ll drop everything to make his dream of performing in the PBA come true.

It wasn’t only Travis who was iffy for Game 4. Paul Lee was treated for a pes anserine, the conjoined tendons of three muscles in the tibia, and later cleared to play last Friday. He was suspected of suffering an MCL tear but an MRI showed only swelling. Neither Travis nor Lee thought of risking a Game 5. They went all out in Game 4, hurt or not. Lee played 30:30 minutes, scoring 3-of-6 from beyond the arc and finishing with 11 points. Travis logged 4:52 minutes and shot an amazing 20-of-26 from the floor for a 76.9 percent clip. He was unstoppable. Ian Sangalang was the only other Hotshot in double figure points with 16 to go with six rebounds and six assists. Sangalang went scoreless when Ginebra beat Magnolia, 93-86, to end the eliminations but has since averaged 13.8 points in four games to break out of the slump.

With the PBA taking a break on Nov. 21-Dec. 4 to give way to the FIBA Asia/Pacific World Cup Qualifiers, Travis and Lee will get badly-needed rest to recover and regroup for the finals. Game 1 of the best-of-seven finals will be on Dec. 5 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. Magnolia went to the finals for the first time under coach Chito Victolero in the last Philippine Cup where the Hotshots lost to San Miguel Beer, 4-1. Magnolia didn’t crack the Final Four in the Commissioner’s Cup so making it in the Governors Cup was a huge bounce back. 

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