Almost lost in the intensity of the semifinal series and the rivalry of the team owners involved is the fact that Nash Racela and brother Olsen are squaring off from opposite benches on the hardcourt.
Nash, the TNT KaTropa coach, threw a slight joke about it, when asked on what adjustments he is expecting from Barangay Ginebra in Game 3 of their series, which is now tied at 1-1.
“No idea,” said Nash. “I know coach Tim (Cone) will do something. I’ll ask Olsen about it.”
PBA legend Olsen is Cone’s assistant with the Kings. But he doesn’t have to spill any major secrets for TNT to figure out how it can gain control of the best-of-five affair.
The Texters have been consistently holding their own against Barangay Ginebra’s imposing frontline and will again have to cut down the Gin Kings to size anew if they want to score a crucial Game 3 victory Friday at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“We always believe that we’re capable of beating Ginebra. But it takes a lot of focus and a lot of effort to do that,” said Nash.
Sealing all possible gaps in the lane, the KaTropa leveled the semifinal showdown by humbling the Gin Kings, 103-96, on a road trip in Batangas City last Wednesday.
Greg Slaughter and Japeth Aguilar, Ginebra’s twin wrecking balls in the paint, couldn’t split the space down low efficiently, allowing TNT’s defenders to clamp down on them easily.
Even Justin Brownlee, who finished with a game-high 25 points, was smothered by TNT’s choking internal defense in the closing minutes when the Kings attempted to cut down a double-digit advantage.
“I think in every position, we are outsized by Ginebra. When they play with a big lineup, it’s really hard to play them,” said Racela.
Tony Semarad did an exceptional job on limiting Brownlee’s mobility inside while Kelly Williams and Moala Tautuaa had seven-footer Slaughter and the 6-foot-9 Aguilar in check.
While containing these giants plays a critical role in scoring a win, TNT must also let quintessential playmaker Jayson Castro provide the leadership and make sure Glen Rice Jr. stays out of early foul trouble this time.
“We have to stick to our rebounding and defensive game plan,” said Castro in Filipino. “We don’t want to get outhustled just like in Game 1. We should again come out with a lot energy.”
Slowed down by leg cramps late in the final period, Castro tallied 20 points and 10 assists in his crucial matchup with Ginebra’s LA Tenorio.