The game was tied at 89 when NorthPort Batang Pier's Roi Sumang had to create something off a timeout with 34.9 seconds left in their 2022-23 PBA Commissioner's Cup opener against the Phoenix Fuel Masters on Wednesday.
Sumang starting the attack is not unusual for NorthPort. It became a necessity against Phoenix as they deployed traps and blitzes for much of the game against Robert Bolick and forced the ball out of the lead guard's hands.
He had plenty of space and a handful of options if a clear path to the hoop wasn't available. Sumang could swing it to Arvin Tolentino in the left corner, to a lurking Arwind Santos on the right wing, or dump it to a rolling Prince Caperal, and with Bolick on the far right corner as the least available choice:
Phoenix came prepared. After Caperal set the screen, import Kaleb Weeson came out to hedge, giving Tio ample time to cover Sumang. Caperal darted to the hoop, but Javee Mocon was prepared to tag the roll until Wesson could recover to his assignment.
Sumang took note of Mocon's help and adjusted.
NorthPort reset the attack and let Caperal screen for Sumang again. This time, though, the 31-year-old guard waited for Mocon to pull in and tag Caperal before going for the most difficult option available: A long pass to the corner to Bolick, who drained the eventual game-winning 3. Reading the play was easy, but executing was a different matter. Aside from timing Mocon's tag, Sumang also had to carve out an angle over the 6-foot-10 Wesson and a helping RJ Jazul to find Bolick. It was a gamble that paid off for Sumang who could've chosen not to take that pass.
"Tingnan mo naman 'yung decision-making -- Arvin Tolentino, libre sa (left) corner, pero ang hinanap, si Mr. Clutch, Robert Bolick, sa (far right) corner. 'Di ba? Panoorin niyo 'yung tape," head coach Pido Jarencio insisted. "'Yung decision-making, buo 'yung bata."
Bolick, who was named Player of the Game, was equally complimentary of Sumang. "Pangit nga ng laro ko eh," he said. "Si Roi talaga ang nagdala sa amin bandang dulo."
For Sumang, it was an outcome he envisioned from the get-go.
"Ginamit ko talaga sa ball screen yung import [ng Phoenix] kasi ang alam ko ro-roll talaga si Prince, tapos si Javee nandun siya sa dulo, maghe-help talaga. Nakita ko na rin naman siya," he explained. "Parang sinetup ko na rin si Berto kanina, kasi kinausap niya rin ako na sabi niya, 'Pre ikaw naman, ready lang ako to shoot.'
"Grabe yung tiwala niya (coach Pido) sa'kin," Sumang continued. "Late game, medyo nasa gilid na 'ko nakaupo kasi sobrang dami kong error kanina. Parang alam ko 'di na talaga ako gagamitin.
"Sinusuklian ko lang naman 'yung mga binibigay nila sa akin."
Repaying Jarencio's trust appears to be a persisting trend for Sumang. He was out of the PBA for the first half of the 2021 season and was preparing to migrate to Scotland with his wife and child before the Batang Pier came knocking with a one-conference deal.
Sumang turned in a decent conference in the 2021 Governors' Cup to parlay that contract into a one-year extension -- which is looking like a fantastic bargain right now for NorthPort.
The Batang Pier struggled to start the 2022 season and had a 3-8 record in the previous Philippine Cup. Sumang's play was one of the lone bright spots. Through 11 games, Sumang logged 13.5 points (third team-wide), 4.3 rebounds, a league-best 6.5 assists, and 1.4 steals while shooting 48.7% from the field and making a remarkable 40% of his 5.5 attempts from deep.
Sumang exuded control, verve, and savvy when he operated as the primary creator, comfortably keeping a live dribble while poking and prodding holes in opposing defenses using his patience and elite change of pace.
Sterling efficiency followed as he took an intentional approach to his shotmaking. According to InStat, 80% of his offense came exclusively at the rim and from above the break, and he posted ridiculous shooting numbers from those areas:
The scoring had ripple effects, as passing opportunities opened up. Per advanced stats database Stats by Ryan, Sumang posted a 61.4% true shooting percentage (ninth) and assisted on 33.8% of his teammates' shots (third). Only one other player -- TNT star guard Jayson Castro -- ranked inside the top 10 of both categories.
Sumang has always been a capable playmaker since his days in the UAAP, but he credits Blackwater assistant coach Aris Dimaunahan for transforming his perspective as a passer during their time together with the franchise from 2016 to 2020.
"Thank you, coach Aris Dimaunahan," Sumang opened. "Siya talaga yung parang nagbago ng game ko. Marami akong natutunan sa kanya. Talagang hinasa ko 'yung game ko kasi si coach Aris nun 'yung parang big guard tapos puro assist. So nung andun ako, 'yun 'yung parang inayos niya sa'kin. Dinala ko na rito sa NorthPort."
Sumang's play over the last nine months evoked memories of his days with the Red Warriors, where he emerged as a potential future star who would compete with Ateneo's Kiefer Ravena for guard supremacy in the pro ranks.
Then the trajectory of their futures diverged as quickly as their stock skyrocketed. Sumang fell to the third round of the 2015 PBA Draft, bounced between the GlobalPort and Blackwater franchises, and even spent some time away from the league as he struggled to consistently get minutes. Ravena, meanwhile, went on to take a path that would lead him to the Japanese B.League after being drafted with the second overall pick in 2017.
But believers remained convinced that Sumang only needed the right environment and opportunity to finally scrape his ceiling.
"From the start, alam ko na 'yung (laro ng) Roi Sumang, kasi sa college pa lang, kinumpara na kay Kiefer Ravena 'yan eh. Talagang magaling 'yung bata," said Jarencio. "Konting playing time at kumpyansa lang, maibabalik niya 'yung laro niya. And then 'yan, nabalik niya 'yung laro niya rito."
"Bangko pa lang ako sa La Salle, si Roi sikat na sikat na nung panahon ng UE. Nakikita ko na siyang maglaro. Hindi naman ako nagulat kung bakit ganyan siya maglaro," Bolick said.
The goal now is to make sure he stays on the right track. Part of that challenge is maintaining a seamless fit with Bolick in the backcourt; both have worked well off of each other so far, and the duo expressed optimism over the partnership's potential to bloom even more over time.
"Oo naman," Bolick answered when asked if Sumang is the ideal backcourt partner for him. "Saktong-sakto na nakuha siya sa amin. Ang ganda ng fit namin, kasi alam na naming dalawa. 'Pag medyo pagod siya, ako na. 'Pag pagod ako, siya naman." '"Yung chemistry talaga namin (maganda), nag-uusap kami sa court, kung siya naman or ako naman. OK 'yung takbo namin," Sumang said.
Sumang also has to show that he can sustain this level of production over an extended amount of time, though it does seem like the Batang Pier are currently busy appreciating his rise rather than looking too far ahead into the future.
"No hesitation noong kinuha ko 'yun. Sabi ko, magaling 'tong batang 'to, basta makuha niya lang ulit 'yung groove, 'yung game niya. 'Yan na, ayan na 'yung Roi Sumang," Jarencio commented.