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Gozum joins Blazers

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Will Gozum bolted out of Univerity of the Philippines (UP) to join College of Saint Benilde in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

The 6-foot-7 slotman made the announcement, saying that the Blazers topped five other schools in the recruitment wars following a forgettable season for the Fighting Maroons in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP).

Gozum said he feels that Saint Benilde could give him a break, something that he didn’t see in UP as he had to contend for minutes against stars like Kobe Paras, Juan and Javi Gomez de Liaño and Bright Akhuetie.

“I chose Saint Benilde because I like its program,” said Gozum, who played for the Fighting Maroons in Season 81 and 82 of the most prestigious collegiate league in the country.

“When they recruited me, the coaching staff was ruthless in pointing out what I need to improve on.  And that’s what I want. I want to know my weaknesses so I can work on it and improve.”

He said five other schools made a run for his service until he reached an agreement with Saint Benilde head coach TY Tang, a former star at De La Salle University.

“I also considered going to Letran, Mapua, UST (University of Sant Tomas), San Beda and NU (National University),” he said.

Playing in the NCAA is nothing new for the 20-year-old Gozum.

In fact, he dominated the league when he was in the junior division and even won the Most Valuable Player award when he was still playing for Mapua University.

Then, he made a shocking move when joined a team that is overflowing with talent in UP. BM

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Boston back in business

Agence France-Presse

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Marcus Smart (right) and Kemba Walker join hands in helping the Boston Celtics win Game 3. KEVIN C. COX/GETTY IMAGES/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MIAMI (AFP) — The Boston Celtics hit back on Saturday, leading wire-to-wire in a 117-106 victory over the Miami Heat that cut the gap in the National Basketball Association (NBA) Eastern Conference finals to two games to one.

Jaylen Brown scored 26 points and Jayson Tatum added 25 points and 14 rebounds for the Celtics, who avoided falling into an 0-3 hole from which no NBA team has rallied to win a best-of-seven playoff series.

After their 17-point lead slipped away in a game-two loss on Thursday — the second straight game they surrendered a double-digit lead in defeat — Celtics players could be heard exchanging heated words in their locker room.

But they were all on the same page on Saturday, displaying a sense of purpose in the NBA’s quarantine bubble in Orlando, Florida, and maintaining their poise as the Heat narrowed a 20-point fourth-quarter deficit to five with less than a minute to play.

Marcus Smart, a perfect 10-for-10 from the foul line, produced a string of clutch free throws and the Celtics hung on for the win.

“Down 0-2 in the series, we played some games we thought we should have played better,” Brown said. “We wanted to make it an emphasis to come out tonight and play 48 minutes, and we did.”

Center Bam Adebayo led the Heat with 27 points, 16 rebounds and three steals. Rookie Tyler Herro scored 22 points for Miami and star forward Jimmy Butler scored 17.

But Boston outscored Miami 60-36 in the paint and held the Heat to 38.8 percent shooting from the floor.

“They came out, Boston did, with great force in this game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You do have to credit them for that. “They sustained it for the better majority of the game. We were on our heels most of the game.”

The Celtics were buoyed by the return from injury of playmaker Gordon Hayward, who played 30 minutes off the bench and scored six points with five rebounds and four assists in his first game in more than four weeks.

“The first five minutes I was gassed,” admitted Hayward, adding that he was feeling it in the right ankle he sprained in game one of the Heat’s first-round series against Philadelphia.

Hayward left the bubble to rehabilitate the injury, returning and going through quarantine before he could return to the court.

Boston led 31-22 at the end of the first quarter, and were up by 12 early in the second before the Heat surged back.

Miami, led by Herro’s 16 points in the period, twice cut the deficit to three points before the Celtics reasserted themselves to take a 62-50 lead into halftime.

“There’s some great guys in that locker room,” Brown said of the Celtics’ unity. “A lot of emotion, a lot of passion, but we’re a family and we’re here for each other.

“We exemplified that when we came out together and stayed together during some tough moments. They made a big run I think at the end of the second quarter, Tyler Herro made some big plays.

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Austria: COVID-19 brings balance to league

Bea Micaller

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Leo Austria believes the PBA’s 45th season is a wide-open race. DAILY TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO

The coronavirus pandemic has made the 45th season of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) into a free-for-all among the 12 teams, San Miguel head coach Leo Austria told the Daily Tribune.

Austria swears the lockdown, which began in the second week of March, brought balance to the league where only a few teams managed to reach the top.

“I agree with that. This pandemic was a trial for everyone but it became a great equalizer in the league,” Austria said in a telephone conversation Sunday morning.

“There’s no such thing as the most or least favored teams. For me, we are all now equal.”

The Beermen, who are itching to rewrite history by copping their sixth-straight Philippine Cup title this year, were the heavy favorites among 12 teams prior to the tip-off in early-March.

Parading a star-studded roster, Austria relies heavily on six-time MVP June Mar Fajardo, Arwind Santos, Chris Ross and Alex Cabagnot.

In the last six years, San Miguel has been the perennial team to beat.

The team started its campaign on the right note by defeating Magnolia, 94-78, during the season 45 grand opening last 9 March at the Araneta Coliseum.

This despite the absence of Fajardo who will be out for a year due to a shin injury and is likely to miss out the season reboot on 9 October in Angeles City, Pampanga.

Austria bared Fajardo’s absence will be a great factor in their run this year but shared his team is not just about the 6-foot-10 gentle giant.

“We will bank on our other player and I must admit, June Mar’s shoes are really hard to fill,” said Austria, holder of three PBA Baby Dalupan Coach of the Year plums.

“We still have Mo (Tautuaa) and other guys are expected to step up in June Mar’s absence.”

But despite a still intact team, the chief tactician bared that all teams have to start from scratch ahead of the league resumption.

“Before, SMB is I think the favorite team since we have June Mar and other veteran players but this pandemic, there is really no advantage to any team,” the 62-year-old mentor stressed.

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PBA goes the extra mile

Bea Micaller

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The Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) has vowed to look after the welfare of its own people ahead of the planned bubble for the season reboot.

Deputy commissioner Eric Castro said they are prepared to maintain the physical and mental well-being of their staff who serves as the backbone of the league resumption amid the pandemic.

“We’re up to it because we know we have to sacrifice for the season and because we want to help the PBA to get back as soon as possible,” Castro told Daily Tribune in a telephone conversation Sunday afternoon.

“Making those sacrifices is part of our job. We’re more than excited because it’s been six months already.”

The PBA has already set 9 October as the target date of its restart while it is eyeing to have the teams enter the bubble on 26 September and conduct scrimmages the next day.

On the part of the teams, players and coaches, this could mean a lot of sacrifices.

But PBA said teams are not the only ones forced to alter their lifestyle in the next two months.

To count, Castro said they will have 15 individuals from the Office of the Commissioner, 16 referees, five table officials, three statistics officials and five media personnel coming into the bubble.

Castro added they are ready to shoulder the lodging, food and testing expenses of their people in the duration of the season which is anticipated to run until early December.

The official also shared they are set to hire a psychologist who will talk to the staff on a regular basis about the importance of mental health in this extraordinary time.

“The double-header games everyday is laborious for the staff so we will hire a psychologist who will talk to them in the morning,” he added.

“What’s good about the staff is that they are very receptive to our plan.”

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Celtics strike back, cut East Finals deficit to 2-1

Agence France-Presse

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Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics dunks the ball against the Miami Heat during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. (AFP)

The Boston Celtics hit back on Saturday, leading wire-to-wire in a 117-106 victory over the Miami Heat that cut the gap in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals to 2-1.

Jaylen Brown scored 26 points and Jayson Tatum added 25 points and 14 rebounds for the Celtics, who avoided falling into an 0-3 hole from which no NBA team has rallied to win a best-of-seven playoff series.

After their 17-point lead slipped away in a Game 2 loss on Thursday — the second straight game they surrendered a double-digit lead in defeat — Celtics players could be heard exchanging heated words in their locker room.

But they were all on the same page in Game 3, displaying a sense of purpose in the NBA’s quarantine bubble in Orlando, Florida, and maintaining their poise as the Heat narrowed a 20-point fourth-quarter deficit to five with less than a minute to play.

Marcus Smart, a perfect 10-for-10 from the foul line, produced a string of clutch free throws and the Celtics hung on for the win.

“Down 0-2 in the series, we played some games we thought we should have played better,” Brown said. “We wanted to make it an emphasis to come out tonight and play 48 minutes, and we did.”

Center Bam Adebayo led the Heat with 27 points, 16 rebounds and three steals. Rookie Tyler Herro scored 22 points for Miami and star forward Jimmy Butler scored 17.

But Boston outscored Miami 60-36 in the paint and held the Heat to 38.8 percent shooting from the floor.

“They came out, Boston did, with great force in this game,” heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You do have to credit them for that. “They sustained it for the better majority of the game. We were on our heels most of the game.”

The Celtics were buoyed by the return from injury of playmaker Gordon Hayward, who played 30 minutes off the bench and scored six points with five rebounds and four assists in his first game in more than four weeks.

“The first five minutes I was gassed,” admitted Hayward, adding that he was feeling it in the right ankle he sprained in game one of the Heat’s first-round series against Philadelphia.

Hayward left the bubble to rehabilitate the injury, returning and going through quarantine before he could return to the court.

Boston led 31-22 at the end of the first quarter, and were up by 12 early in the second before the Heat surged back.

Miami, led by Herro’s 16 points in the period, twice cut the deficit to three points before the Celtics reasserted themselves to take a 62-50 lead into halftime.

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Lakers send Nuggets crashing

Agence France-Presse

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ANTHONY Davis fires 37 points to power the Los Angeles Lakers past the Denver Nuggets. NATHANIEL S. BUTLER/NBAE VIA GETTY IMAGES/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MIAMI (AFP) — Anthony Davis scored 37 points and pulled down 10 rebounds as the Los Angeles Lakers dominated the Denver Nuggets, 126-114, in Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference finals.

LeBron James added 15 points with 12 assists and six rebounds for the Lakers, who shot out of the gate after dropping their opener in each of their previous two playoff series in the NBA’s coronavirus quarantine bubble in Orlando, Florida.

After a close first quarter ended with the Nuggets up by two, the Lakers seized control in the second quarter, outscoring Denver, 34-21, to take a 70-59 lead into halftime.

Lakers reserve Alex Caruso converted a three-point play to spark a 17-1 scoring run, the Nuggets going without a basket for more than five minutes to start the second quarter.

“It took a quarter for us to kind of figure it out,” James said.

“I’m not saying we fully figured them out because it’s too early in the series to say that.”

“But we started to get a better feel, just started to get in a better rhythm defensively and we started to get some stops in that second quarter and we were able to build that lead up going into halftime.”

Well aware that the Nuggets had proved their resilience with some big second-half comebacks against the Los Angeles Clippers in the previous round, the Lakers kept the pressure on after the break.

Denver trimmed the deficit to nine points midway through the third quarter.

But their efforts were hampered with star Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap all in early foul trouble, and that was the closest they would get in the second half.

Jokic and Murray both scored 21 points to pace the Nuggets. Michael Porter added 14 off the bench.

But Denver coach Mike Malone said the Nuggets did not do enough on defense.

“Even in that first quarter we didn’t guard anybody,” said Malone, whose team shot better than 63 percent from the field in an opening period punctuated by Murray’s three-pointer as time expired.

“Our offense was able to score the ball but there was little defense.”

But Malone said the Nuggets would have to figure out how to get stops without fouling, noting that in the Lakers’ massive second quarter they shot just 42.9 percent from the floor but went to the free-throw line 24 times.

“Twenty four times in one quarter, and we were called for 16 personal fouls in that quarter,” Malone said.

“On top of that seven turnovers, again fueling their break.”

Murray said the Nuggets aren’t surprised to see foul calls to go the Lakers’ way.

“We know how it’s going to be,” he said.

“We know we’re the younger team. We’re just going to play through it.”

“We’re going to find a way and we’re not going to go away so easy.”

Davis had 33 points by the end of the third quarter, his hook shot with 36.4 seconds left in the third pushing the Lakers’ lead to 23 points.

The Lakers, back in the conference finals for the first time since 2010 — when they won their most recent NBA title — remained well aware that they had plenty of work to do against a Nuggets team that erased 1-3 deficits in each of their previous two series.

“We haven’t done anything special,” Davis said.

“We basically took care of home court. We have three more to go.”

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PBA restart costs P65M

Bea Micaller

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PBA chairman Ricky Vargas bares that the league would be spending 'close to P65 million' for the bubble setup in Clark.

The Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) would be spending P65 million to stage the restart of its 45th season in a bubble setup at the Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga.

PBA chairman Ricky Vargas said bulk of the amount would cover the accommodation and meal expenses of 350 personnel, including players, coaches, officials, media and league staff who would enter the bubble.

“It’s close to P65 million,” Vargas told former PBA commissioner Noli Eala in a radio interview.

“The big chunk of the budget will be going to the accommodation and food expenses.”

Vargas said the amount is quite conservative.

In fact, they got good discount on the rental of the Angeles University Foundation gymnasium as well as free coronavirus testing courtesy of Clark City.

“We got a lot of discounts on the venue and, thanks to Clark City, because now even the testing is free.”

Over 20 venues, including the Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai, made a pitch to host the PBA resumption.

But Clark City stood out after presenting solid plan on the safety of the stakeholders, medical facilities, costing, facilities for the well being of players and connectivity.

He said they were fortunate because teams would not be shelling out a single centavo for the PBA bubble, knowing that the pandemic also took a toll on their respective budgets.

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FIBA to adopt bubble format

Bea Micaller

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Gilas Pilipinas would be seeing action inside a bubble when the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup qualifying tournament resumes in November and February.

The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) made the announcement, saying that with the global outbreak of the coronavirus disease, the most logical way to restart the qualifiers is by holding it in isolated venues instead of the usual home-and-away format.

Gilas is in Group A with South Korea, Thailand and Indonesia.

They fashion a 1-0 card following a 100-70 win over the Indonesians on 20 February — few weeks before the tournament was halted due to the outbreak of the deadly pulmonary disease.

The Nationals are set to see action on the road against South Korea on 27 November and against Thailand on 30 November before hosting Indonesia on 18 February and South Korea on 21 February next year.

“Each bubble will consist four or eight teams,” FIBA said in a statement.

“The hosts will be decided at the regional level and will be announced in due course.”

But putting the national dribblers inside a bubble would be easier said than done.

First, the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases has yet to issue the green light for the restart of amateur sports — including FIBA tournaments.

The only amateur sports that are seeking IATF permission are those where Filipinos have bright chances of clinching Olympic berths like boxing, taekwondo, fencing, athletics, swimming, golf, gymnastics and judo.

With that, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) has to reach out to the IATF to explain the importance of the prestigious qualifiers.

Another roadblock is the schedule of the Philippine Basketball Association.

The country’s domestic league would also be using a bubble setup and is set to start on 9 October until mid-December.

Should the qualifiers push through in November, PBA players in the pool would not be seeing action.

Gilas program director Tab Baldwin said the news took them by surprise.

“We are yet to meet and discuss the pathway program so I don’t really have an update of which players and what is going to look like. It’s still a very fresh news,” Baldwin said, adding that they are still waiting for further updates from FIBA.

“Until everybody makes their decision and FIBA has also yet to release the specific dates, we are just waiting and obviously we need to put up contingency plan on how the team will look like.”

“We will certainly be meeting very soon.”

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Giannis wins MVP, joins elite group

Agence France-Presse

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MIAMI (AFP) — Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo said he would treasure his second straight NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) award and redouble his efforts to capture a league crown.

The 25-year-old from Greece became just the third player in history to earn MVP and Defensive Player of the Year honors in the same season after Michael Jordan in 1988 and Hakeem Olajuwon in 1994.

“Michael Jordan, one of the best players who had ever done it, if not the best,” Antetokounmpo said, speaking from a rooftop in Athens during the televised announcement of the award.

“Hakeem, a guy that I look up to, he came from where I’m from, Nigeria, where I have roots.”

“Just being in the same sentence with them, that means a lot to me.”

The player dubbed the “Greek Freak” became the 12th player to win back-to-back MVP, joining Jordan, Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Steve Nash, Tim Duncan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Moses Malone, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell.

But, once again, the MVP award carries a bittersweet tinge after the top-seeded Bucks fell in five games to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals in the quarantine bubble in Orlando, Florida.

Last year, Antetokounmpo won the MVP only for eventual champion Toronto to oust the Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals.

“Obviously, I would love to be still in the bubble playing games, fighting,” Antetokounmpo said.

“But at the end of the day I won the award. I’m extremely blessed.”

“It’s been a long journey,” Antetokounmpo added.

“The people that know me, the people that know my story, you can never take these moments for granted.”

Antetokounmpo won in a landslide, receiving 85 first-place votes from a global panel of sports reporters and broadcasters, the league announced on Friday.

Los Angeles Lakers star James received 16 first-place votes and the third finalist, James Harden of the Houston Rockets, did not receive any first-place votes.

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Celtics feel the Heat

Agence France-Presse

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JIMMY Butler provides leadership down the stretch for the Miami Heat. GARRETT ELLWOOD/NBAE VIA GETTY IMAGES/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MIAMI (AFP) — The Miami Heat turned it up in the second half, rallying again for a 106-101 victory over the Boston Celtics and a 2-0 lead in the NBA Eastern Conference finals.

Trailing by 17 in the second quarter and down 60-47 at halftime, Miami thrashed the Celtics, 37-17, in the third quarter and held on for the victory.

Bam Adebayo scored 15 of his 21 points in the Heat’s blistering third quarter.

The Celtics, who let a big lead slip in a 117-114 Game 1 overtime defeat on Tuesday, regained the lead in the fourth quarter and were up, 94-89, with 4:25 left to play.

But the Heat chipped away with a hook shot from Adebayo and a steal and dunk by Jimmy Butler.

Goran Dragic followed up two free throws with a three-pointer over Boston big man Daniel Theis that put the Heat ahead, 100-95, with 1:42 remaining and Miami powered to the finish line.

“We came here to these playoffs trying to win a championship,” Adebayo said.

“We keep stacking these wins and hopefully we get to that point.”

“Right now, 2-0, we’ve got to keep stacking those wins.”

Dragic finished with 25 points, and Duncan Robinson added 18 points, all on three-pointers.

Adebayo added 10 rebounds and four assists, Jimmy Butler had 14 points, four rebounds, three assists and four steals.

“We like to make it hard for ourselves,” Butler said of the Miami “comeback kids.”

In fact, the Heat got off to a brisk start making five of their first six three-point attempts.

After a close first quarter the Celtics surged ahead in the second period, only for the Heat to make the needed adjustments at halftime.

“You get to the conference finals, it’s not all about you,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

“Boston had a lot to say about how that first half was going. That was them putting us on our heels.”

Kemba Walker broke out of his scoring slump with 23 points for the Celtics. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum scored 21 apiece.

But Brown missed a three-pointer that would have tied it with 15 seconds to play and 20 Celtics turnovers led to 26 Miami points.

“They out-played us,” Walker said of the Heat’s third-quarter surge.

“It’s really unacceptable on our behalf. We didn’t continue to do the things that we did to get us that lead. I think we got kind of comfortable and those guys took advantage of it.

“They played hard — a lot harder than us. We fought our way back, but just too many mistakes.”

The Heat will try to take a stranglehold on the best-of-seven series in game three on Saturday in the NBA’s quarantine bubble in Orlando.

The Celtics will go into that one knowing that no NBA team has rallied from an 0-3 deficit to win a series and that might have contributed to tension in the locker room after the defeat.

“Guys were emotional after a hard game, hard loss,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of the shouting that could be heard from Boston’s locker room post-game.

Walker wouldn’t be drawn on reports that Marcus Smart let fly before storming out.

“It was nothing,” Walker insisted, adding when pressed, “we’ll be fine.”

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