Like a wrecking ball in the paint, Josh Smith’s imposing presence alone has been enough to make every TNT KaTropa foe change its game plan.
The KaTropa again cashed in on the size and strength of their import to flatten the NLEX Road Warriors, 117-106, Sunday night as TNT grabbed a piece of the elimination round lead in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup at Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay.
While the Road Warriors were busy packing the lanes in a bid to limit the damage that Smith can create, Anthony Semerad found his range and worked pleasantly well with speedy guards Jason Castro and Terrence Romeo in booking the KaTropa a sure seat in the quarterfinals.
“NLEX has been doing a decent job the past two games. We really had a hard time, but we came in prepared,” said TNT coach Nash Racela after tying the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters at 6-1.
Defending champion San Miguel Beer assembled its first winning streak after a 104-97 overtime win over crowd-darling Barangay Ginebra in the nightcap.
Renaldo Balkman scored 27 points and had 11 rebounds and June Mar Fajardo forged overtime at 93 with 1.1 seconds left to highlight a 24-point, 19-rebound night that helped the Beermen rise to 2-3.
Ginebra took a third straight defeat in a 1-5 record.
Semerad benefited from the attempted defensive crackdown by the Road Warriors on Smith and had a flurry of threes late in the third that created enough cushion the KaTropa safely preserved until the end.
“I have been putting in the work on my shooting before, during and after practice,” said Semerad, who drained 6-of-9 attempts from the three-point zone and finished with 22 points.
Also working wonders for TNT the past three games was its newfound ability of sharing the ball and hitting the open man despite enjoying a squadron of offensive-minded guards.
“We just tried doing a lot of combinations today,” Racela said. “Jayson (Castro) and Terrence playing together, Tony Semerad playing the four because we feel that’s something we will be needing in the future.”
Castro finished with 10 points, seven assists and six rebounds.
Jericho Cruz and RR Pogoy were good for 23 points combined.
Romeo fed Smith underneath for an alley-oop dunk, one of the highlight reels of the game and the eighth assist that the shoot-first point guard dished out, giving them a 14-point lead in the closing minutes.
Arnett Moultrie was efficient with 31 points and 14 rebounds, and, at some point, was successful in drawing out Smith, a 6-foot-9, 290-pound blend of power and size, by taking his game to the perimeter.
NLEX was without Kiefer Ravena for the second game.