Alaska head coach Jeff Cariaso said earlier this week that he isn’t rushing Vic Manuel to return to his usual form. Instead, they’re staying patient with the Aces’ star forward so he has all the time he needs to recover.
“I’m trying not to put that burden and expect him to play 30 minutes every game, even if I wanted to do. Kaya lang ‘di pa niya kaya,” said the seasoned mentor after their dominant 120-82 win over Blackwater last Tuesday.
“So slowly, we’re kinda making him understand that timing’s in there, make sure he’s active on defense, make sure he’s rebounding, and then ‘yung offense… I hardly talk about offense with him — you know his capabilities.”
But on Thursday night, the old Manuel was back, it seems.
The 33-year-old made 18 points, including 10 in the final frame. And he made the most important shots down the stretch to tow the Milkmen to an 89-88 win over Rain or Shine.
The win also extends their streak to three in the PBA Philippine Cup.
Manuel capped off a 14-2 run that turned an eight-point deficit to an 85-80 Aces lead with 1:43 left to play. He then scored the last four points of the team, doing his best to keep the Elasto Painters at bay.
The cager from Nueva Ecija also hauled down the missed potential game-winning lay-up of Rey Nambatac in the dying seconds to stop the opposition from scoring off a second chance and seal the deal.
Thanks to Manuel’s big endgame, the Elasto Painters saw their three-game winning streak busted. They also missed the chance to tie Barangay Ginebra San Miguel at the second spot of the team standings.
“Binigyan lang kami ng instruction ni Coach Jeff na kailangan sundin namin. Ayun, naging effective naman. So, nakakatira ako ng maganda — talagang open shot,” said Manuel, who shot 47-percent from the field.
“Guys like Vic,” said Cariaso moments after the win that hiked the Aces’ record to 3-2, “guys like JVee [Casio], Robbie [Herndon], Mike [DiGregorio], you know, they’ll step in and hit big shots for us.”
It was Manuel’s night, but while he deserves much of the credit, the eight-year pro deflected it to their defense. He pointed out that it was the key that ultimately led to the come-from-behind victory.
“Nag-stick lang talaga kami sa depensa namin,” he said. “Nung endgame na, talagang hinigpitan namin ‘yung depensa. Talagang nag-communicate kami sa isa’t isa.
“Kaya nakakuha kami ng stops.”