In dire need of a victory and facing yet another strong rally, TNT steps up and narrows series deficit
Late in the third quarter, TNT watched Barangay Ginebra lay siege to yet another huge lead, trimming its 10-point lead to just two in a span of about three minutes.
It was a familiar scene for the Tropang Giga, who blew a huge lead in the third period in Game 2 before collapsing late in the fourth to fall into a 2-0 hole in the PBA Philippine Cup Finals.
This time, though, with practically the series on the line, TNT made the necessary corrections to stay in control and ran away with an 88-67 victory on Friday night in Game 3 of the title series at Angeles University Foundation.
Ginebra still leads the race-to-four affair, 2-1.
So what was the difference between Games 2 and 3 for TNT?
“A sense of urgency,” forward Troy Rosario said in a postgame TV interview. “We knew that coming back from 0-3 would be too difficult for us. We just kept fighting.”
“We had to win or else we run the risk of getting swept,” TNT coach Bong Ravena said.
The sense of urgency was indeed evident. In Game 2, as scrappy Ginebra swingman Aljon Mariano hosed down what was a 15-point TNT lead, the Tropang Giga looked winded and carried a slim two-point lead into the final quarter, where everything came crashing in the stretch. In Game 3 on Wednesday, LA Tenorio made two free throws as Ginebra narrowed a 10-point gap to 56-54, under three minutes to play. But instead of falling apart, TNT slammed on the gas pedal with Jayson Castro and Jay Washington knocking down treys to key another run that put the Tropang Giga ahead, 66-56, entering the fourth period.
Castro and Rosario then got TNT off to a quick start in the fourth for a 72-58 spread, 9:36 to play.
“We really have a tendency to relax,” Ravena told the Inquirer. “So we just kept reminding the players that we can no longer commit the same mistake of relaxing.”
But for Ravena, urgency was just half the battle.
“We’re happy we stuck to our rules,” Ravena said. “If we stick to our rules, we get a better chance at winning.”
And on top of those rules was to keep Stanley Pringle from dominating offensively. Pringle burned TNT in the first two games, averaging 29 points, 6.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game while shooting 45 percent from the field.
On Wednesday, Pringle got the Kings off to a hot start, scoring five points in the first two minutes of the game. But TNT limited him to just six in the next 46 minutes for a paltry stat line of 11 points, four rebounds and two assists. Pringle missed 10 of 14 attempts from the field for a 28-percent clip.
“If we can limit Stanley, that’s a big thing,” Ravena said. “I just hope we could keep on playing this kind of game.”
And the Tropang Giga will need it. TNT was without top gun Ray Parks Jr. for a second straight game due to a strained calf and remains doubtful for Game 4. And despite the rousing victory, TNT’s first over Ginebra in four outings in the bubble, Ravena is aware of the reality confronting the team.
“We’re still down,” he said. “Our mindset right now is to just level the series. We hope to play harder and better [in Game 4] on Sunday.
RR Pogoy finished with 18 points to lead five players in double figures for TNT. Rosario, who had struggled in the playoffs, finally found his touch and added 15 on 7-of-9 shooting from the field. Castro also had 15 points and added 10 assists for the Tropang Giga.
Tenorio had 18 points to lead Ginebra while Japeth Aguilar chipped in 15 points and nine rebounds for the Gin Kings, who shot just 35 percent from the field.
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