By JONAS TERRADO
TNT put itself in a position to secure a finals berth after pummeling San Miguel Beer, 110-90, Wednesday, for a 3-2 lead in their PBA Philippine Cup semis series at the Don Honorio Ventura State University in Bacolor, Pampanga.
The Tropang Giga leaned on their torrid shooting in the first quarter highlighted by five straight triples during one stretch to turn the tables on the Beermen following a 26-point defeat in Game 4.
Coach Chot Reyes, who has been preaching the need to do a lot of effort in order to beat the talented San Miguel side, was glad to see TNT make a response from the brutal beating it got the last time.
“I’ve said this from the start, if we are not able to match the effort of San Miguel, that’s what’s going to happen, the one that you saw in Game 4, that blowout. So our focus has really been first to get our effort and our energy levels back up,” said Reyes.
“For some reason. I guess I wasn’t able to prepare the players better, give them better recovery and rest for the last game. And we came out really flat. And we knew that against a team like this, that’s what’s gonna happen. You’ll really get a big beating.
“So we talked a lot about it, how we started the game and we just said let’s focus on getting this one. Now we can take a look at the next one,” Reyes added.
TNT will have two chances to close out SMB and advance to the finals for the third time in the last four conferences, beginning with Game 6 on Friday, Oct. 15.
Meantime, Meralco staved off elimination with a determined effort to outlast Magnolia Pambansang Manok, 102-98, and extend their own semifinal series.
Allein Maliksi knocked two triples down the stretch that gave the Bolts a needed cushion to prevent the Hotshots from marching their way to the finals and extend the best-of-seven affair to a sixth game.
Nards Pinto and Raymond Almazan, back after missing the last two games due to a sprained left ankle, also came up big for the Bolts despite Chris Newsome being disqualified for six fouls with 7:10 to go in the fourth and Magnolia holding an 85-79 lead when play resumed.
“We kinda have our backs against the wall and there is no tomorrow for us,” said Meralco coach Norman Black. “It was a very gutsy performance by my players and they battled the entire game.
“We also fought the Magnolia team on a good night. They played well and they played to go out and shut us off already into eliminating us. But we stood our ground. We made some big shots down the stretch which was very, very important. We kept our composure and we gave ourselves a chance to get back in the series,” he added.
Game 6 is set at 6 p.m. tomorrow night, with Black hoping to have another inspiring performance from his crew.
Averaging just 5.3 points in the first four games of the semis, Maliksi stepped up and delivered a conference-high 29 points aided by seven three-pointers.
Maliksi scored nine in a row for Meralco, beginning with three free throws off a Paul Lee foul that broke a 90-all tie with 3:28 remaining.
The string of five triples began with TNT holding a 13-9 lead almost halfway into the first quarter.
Rookie guard Mikey Williams, who has been struggling offensively throughout the series, drained the first one followed by Kib Montalbo and Ryan Reyes to give the Tropang Giga their first double-digit lead at 19-9.
Poy Erram, who played with a protective mask after fracturing his cheekbone in the second quarter of Game 4, continued the onslaught with a three of his own before Williams completed the stretch from the top of the key for a 28-9 TNT advantage.
SMB tried in vain to cut the huge deficit as TNT eventually stretched the gap to a high of 28 late in the second quarter.
Jayson Castro put up 19 points and eight assists in another reserve role, Williams finished with 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting for his best game against SMB this conference while RR Pogoy also recovered from a disappointing showing with 18 points.
Troy Rosario added 17 points and eight rebounds despite sustaining a cut on his forehead courtesy of an accidental hit from Kelly Williams, who made his return from the league’s health and safety protocols.
June Mar Fajardo finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds while CJ Perez added 18 for SMB.
MERALCO 102 — Maliksi 29, Pinto 24, Newsome 23, Almazan 9, Hugnatan 6, Hodge 4, Belo 4, Quinto 3, Pasaol 0, Caram 0, Jackson 0.
MAGNOLIA 98 — Barroca 25, Abueva 19, Sangalang 15, Lee 13, Jalalon 12, Ahanmisi 8, Reavis 6, Dionisio 0, Corpuz 0, Dela Rosa 0.
Quarters: 23-33, 45-47, 69-71, 102-98.
TNT 110 — Castro 19, M.Williams 18, Pogoy 18, Rosario 17, K. Williams 12, Erram 10, Reyes 6, Montalbo 5, Exciminiano 3, Marcelo 2, Heruela 0, Alejandro 0.
SAN MIGUEL 90 — Fajardo 23, Perez 18, Santos 14, Romeo 12, Tautuaa 10, Lassiter 5, Ross 3, Pessumal 3, Cabagnot 2.
Quarters: 32-17, 61-35, 81-61, 110-90.