MANILA, Philippines -- The referees had their work cut out for them when old guard Uling Roasters-Butuan City faced off against one of the new kids on the block, Nueva Ecija, in the preseason of Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas 3x3.
A total of 26 fouls were called in a game that lasted just four minutes and 14 seconds, as Nueva Ecija showed no fear against one of the most established 3x3 squads in the league.
"I can tell you, we are going to compete. You saw it naman sa preseason games namin especially against Butuan," said playing team manager Jai Reyes a day after their 21-10 victory.
It took just eight seconds for fireworks to erupt as Butuan's JR Alabanza bodychecked Rice Vanguard Gab Banal.
Nueva Ecija's Juan Gomez de Liano was clipped on the head by Karl Dehesa later on that resulted in an unsportsmanlike foul. Later on, he and Franky Johnson also had heated moments on both ends.
There was also one instance that saw Johnson run over Reyes. As an offensive foul was called, the Filipino-American accidentally clipped the Ateneo de Manila University product's head with a knee.
Later on, Alabanza got another one on Banal as, after a made basket, he threw a slight hammer fist to his rival's body. Even Butuan's veteran Chico Lanete and Reyes had a brief interaction when the latter bodychecked Lanete to the LED board.
Taunts can also be heard by both sides all throughout the affair.
For Johnson, the game was a perfect wake-up call to them.
"My team loves the physicality and that’s just how we all play. We play with a lot of heart," said the eighth-ranked 3x3 player in the country. "Now once we combine our heart and dog mentality into becoming a better smarter team, we are going to be super dangerous."
Reyes said the teams talked it out at the end of the game, stressing that it was "all good" among the players.
This doesn't mean that the budding rivalry is over, though. Johnson made it clear that he is looking forward to getting a win back against Nueva Ecija.
"Good game. We have no comment on it really. We know what we have to do to come back," he said.
"We're looking forward to the rematch."
Come Leg 1 on Wednesday, the only chance the two teams would meet is in the playoffs as Butuan is in Pool B together with Pasig-Sta. Lucia and Pagadian Rocky Sports, while Nueva Ecija is slotted in Pool D with Bacolod Master Sardines and Petra Cement-Roxas City ZN.