TNT thunders to brink of finals
Bolts stand ground, stay alive vs hotshots
MANILA, Philippines — Back with a full complement, TNT charged at San Miguel Beer like a wrecking ball and hacked out a 110-90 romp to wrest control of the PBA Philippine Cup semifinal duel at 3-2 last night in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Buoyed by Kelly Williams’ awaited series debut after going under health protocols and Poy Erram’s return after sustaining a fractured cheekbone in Game 4, the Tropang Giga came out strong on both ends to get on the hill in the race-to-four dispute.
It was a mighty rebound for a Tropang Giga crew that lost badly last Sunday, 90-116, to find themselves in a 2-2 tie.
“It’s really hard to beat a loaded San Miguel without our starting center Kelly and losing Poy in the first half. So our mindset was to forget Game 4 and look at Game 5 as a brand new game, that it was back to square one,” said TNT coach Chot Reyes, whose troops can close it out tomorrow.
Williams provided a sturdy inside presence and the needed leadership for TNT, which out-rebounded the mighty SMB frontline, 45-42.
The Tropang Giga skipper turned in 12 points with three rebounds to back up Jayson Castro’s 19 markers and eight assists, and the 18 points apiece of Mikey Williams and RR Pogoy. Erram had 10 markers and six boards.
“Parang best-of-three so sobrang importante sa amin ito at the same time yung motivation namin going into this game ay mataas kasi nung Game 4 sobrang tinambakan kami,” said Castro.
The Tropang Giga asserted themselves early, unleashing five straight triples in a 17-0 blast to seize a 30-9 margin late in the opening canto.
From there, the relentless TNT cagers widened the gap to as many as 28 points at 61-33, and expertly countered every comeback mounted by SMB.
Earlier, Meralco powered up to score a life-breathing 102-98 victory over Magnolia and make it a 3-2 contest in their own semis showdown.
Facing a do-or-die, the Bolts responded with a lionhearted stand to survive Game 5 and stop the Hotshots’ intended series wrapup and march into the finals.
Allein Maliksi bannered an array of heroes for Meralco, firing playoffs-high 29 big points spiked by 7-of-8 three-point clip. His last trey gave Meralco a 99-93 cushion going to the last 1:20.
Nards Pinto chipped in a career-high 24, aside from defending against Paul Lee, while Chris Newsome shot 23 before fouling out.
Back after a two-game absence due to ankle injury, center Raymond Almazan scored nine, including three charities in the last 10 seconds that quashed Magnolia’s threat, to go with 10 rebounds.
More than staying alive, the rejuvenated Bolts gave themselves a fighting chance to force a 3-3 stalemate in tomorrow’s Game 6.
“We had our backs against the wall and it was a very gritty performance on the part of the players to go out and battle the entire game,” said Meralco coach Norman Black, whose charges didn’t waver despite facing an 11-point deficit in the opening period.
“We caught Magnolia on a good night. They really played well to try to shut us off and eliminate us but we stood our ground. We made some big shots down the stretch, kept our composure and gave ourselves a chance to come back in the series.”
Mark Barroca paced Magnolia with 25 as Calvin Abueva added 19 and Ian Sangalang netted 15 markers and 14 rebounds. Lee finished with 13 but was held scoreless in the final canto.
The Hotshots threatened to break away early after racing to a 30-19 tear and ending the first quarter ahead by 10, 33-23.
But the Bolts, riding on Maliksi’s sniping, clawed back in the second frame and made it tight all the way to the finish.
“In this game, we just wanted to fight another day. We wanted to play again on Friday,” said Black. “We know we have a tough road ahead of us ‘coz they’re up 3-2 now but at the same time we want to take it one game at a time.”
After a meager two-pointer in their 69-81 loss in Game 4, Maliksi turned in his best scoring output in a Meralco uniform.
“Kailangan kong mag-step-up lalo pa’t it’s a do-or-die for us. Kailangang mag-set ako ng example sa teammates ko as a veteran,” he said.
Black added that having the 6-foot-7 Almazan back was a major boost against the rugged Magnolia frontline.
“Raymond is one of the main reasons we’re in the semifinals. He gives us a big man that can contend with the other big men in the league. When he went down with injury earlier in the series, it really hurt us a great deal,” he said.
“It’s a big lift to have him back and I hope he didn’t reinjure his injury today and I hope he’s ready to play again on Friday.”