Chot Reyes knew straightaway that matching San Miguel’s firepower would only doom TNT to a losing battle in the Philippine Basketball Association Philippine Cup semifinals.
So he turned to the next logical thing to do, which was to outwork the Beermen.
And that has been working well for the Tropang Giga in this race-to-four duel. Late Friday night, they hammered out a morale-breaking 115-98 rout of the Beermen, giving them a 2-1 lead in the series.
“We know that if we don’t outwork San Miguel, we’ll have no chance,” Reyes said shortly after the win. “But even if we outwork them, it doesn’t make sure that we’re going to win. So that has been our only focus.”
“In both earlier games, we got beat in the fourth quarter. So we said our focus now was to come out and play the full 48 minutes,” he went on. “We need to be able to close out games … and credit to the players, they responded.”
The first few minutes of the second half was indicative of TNT’s decision to make sure there would be no rousing rallies from the Beermen. Up by 12 at the start of the third quarter, the Tropang Giga applied a choking defense anchored on a tireless work rate that produced the desired results: San Miguel’s first five possessions consisted of four turnovers and two missed shots.
That gave the Tropang Giga a 22-point lead and sent a message to the San Miguel bench: The Beermen would be confronting that kind of resistance to the finish.
It helped that TNT finally found its range in the match. TNT was dialed in from long distance, shooting 37 percent there—a vast improvement from Game 2’s horrendous 27 percent clip.
Fueling that pinpoint shooting were Roger Pogoy and Poy Erram, who both finished with a conference-highs, and Mikey Williams, who finally snapped out of a scoring slump.
“If we’re making our outside shots, then I think we give ourselves a much better chance,” said Reyes. “That’s the difference.”
The outside shooting helped TNT manufacture an offense that gave their defense something to build on. And the Tropang Giga are hoping to continue waxing hot from long range when they shoot for a commanding 3-1 lead in Sunday’s Game 4 set 2 p.m. at Don Honorio Ventura State University in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Erram’s shooting typifies the faith Reyes puts in his players, something that refills those players’ belief in themselves. The 6-foot-8 center missed a key three-pointer in Game 2 that paved the way for the frantic ending that saw Marcio Lassiter bury the game-winner in a 98-96 victory.
“[Coach Chot] just lets you play basketball the right way. For me, it’s the best thing that can happen to a player, if the coach lets you play,” Erram said.
Meanwhile, Meralco is also looking to use whatever momentum it manufactured in its gallant stand against Magnolia last Friday, and Norman Black intends to do that by using every ounce of zest from his players.“The desire of the players have been there the entire year and that’s why we’re in this position right now,” said Black, whose club narrowly missed last year’s title series.
The Bolts will gun for the equalizer at 4:35 p.m., looking to return the favor to the Hotshots, the only team to have laced back-to-back wins in this year’s Final Four.
“Nobody wants to go on vacation early. We want to make this series as competitive as possible,” Black said.
Meralco hopes to continue drawing inspired basketball from its crew reeling from an assortment of absences brought on by Raymond Almazan’s ankle injury, and two more Bolts’ placement under the league’s health and safety protocols.
“We put ourselves back in series,” said Black. “Basically, that’s all we’ve done.”
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