By JONAS TERRADO
TNT is keeping its best foot forward even after hurdling some obstacles of its own and the tough challenge of San Miguel Beer in the opening of their PBA Philippine Cup semifinal series.
The Tropang Giga won by a hair’s breadth, 89-88, thanks to a defensive stand that denied the Beermen of pulling off another Houdini act.
But TNT coach Chot Reyes and his men had to deal with the absence of veteran Kelly Williams due to the health and safety protocols and super rookie Mikey Williams’ offensive struggles in order to land the first punch in the best-of-seven series.
For RR Pogoy, the topscorer of Game 1 for the victors with 23 points, keeping the same effort is perhaps the best way for TNT to have a chance of beating an SMB side that is deep from almost every position.
“Sa totoo lang, sobrang hirap talaga,” Pogoy said. “Kailangan talaga A-game namin, yung pinaka-best talaga namin para talunin San Miguel dahil napakahirap talaga.”
Pogoy produced his conference-best so far as he and some of the TNT players picked up the slack from Williams, who could only produce seven points on 3-of-12 shooting.
It was the first time after five straight games that the fourth pick in the draft failed to reach double figures. But Williams did have his part in the win with his contributions in other departments, grabbing eight rebounds and six assists.
The recipients of his passes were able to contribute on offense, with team captain Jayson Castro producing 16 points off the bench and Poy Erram and Troy Rosario adding 15 and 14.
“The important thing is for Mikey and every player on our team is really not about scoring, it’s ‘What can I contribute to this team?’” Reyes said. “And Mikey contributed with his rebounding and with his assists, and that’s important.
“For us, all that matters is the W. And if Mikey isn’t scoring, some other guys are scoring and picking it up and in the end, that’s what the team is all about,” added Reyes.
Kelly Williams’ absence left Erram, Troy Rosario and backup center Dave Marcelo to toughen themselves up in the middle, especially with June Mar Fajardo still capable of imposing his will.
Fajardo had 13 points but Marcelo fouled out and Erram was almost disqualified as well when he had five fouls in the fourth.
Then, there’s the dilemma of taking on SMB’s other talented players like CJ Perez who finished with 23 points, Terrence Romeo, Arwind Santos, Chris Ross, Alex Cabagnot and Mo Tautuaa, which is why Reyes keeps on preaching about being at their best throughout the series.
“Yun lang ang focus namin, let’s just put in our best effort and we’ll see what happens. Ang lakas nitong kalaban nating to e. So yun ang mangyayari, we stayed close and we gave ourselves a chance to win. And luckily we pulled it out tonight,” he said.