After PH Cup crown, Chot has his wards looking to new challenges ahead
There was a time during the summer when installing TNT as favorite for the PBA’s Philippine Cup wasn’t exactly a smart idea.
Sure, the Tropang Giga were coming off a PBA Finals run, but they lost decisively there to Barangay Ginebra. And whatever momentum they would’ve manufactured there dissipated when top two-way star Ray Parks Jr. bolted the squad.
Not only that, the team’s top rivals were entering the season with souped-up rosters: San Miguel got cornerstone June Mar Fajardo back from a shin injury and added scoring stud CJ Perez. Barangay Ginebra acquired Christian Standhardinger, a high-IQ, high-motor big man, for its repeat campaign. Magnolia, on the other hand, traded for do-it-all forward Calvin Abueva, deepening its crew of blue-collar stars.
TNT made just two key additions: Returning coach Chot Reyes and rookie Mikey Williams.
That was enough to end an 11-conference run of TNT’s rival conglomerate.
Williams got his reward when he was named Finals Most Valuable Player after TNT dismissed Magnolia in five games to claim the league’s most prestigious trophy last Friday and end a six-year wait to return to glory.
Reyes, on the other hand, wasn’t even looking for any reward at all.
“There is not even a hint of any reclamation, personal or otherwise, on my part,” he told the Inquirer before the tournament started.
After Friday’s series-clinching 94-79 triumph, Reyes proved true to his word, opting to spend the first few championship moments at the sidelines, watching his players celebrate on the court.
“They stayed together throughout the adversity and this is just a great reward for all their hardships,” he said during the awarding ceremony, when he was finally hauled to center court on the shoulders of his wards.
Very few teams came close to touching TNT in the conference. The Tropang Giga lost to only two squads in its run to the Philippine crown: Four times to San Miguel Beer and once to Magnolia. The key was to keep a short-sighted approach to games. Take it one quarter at a time.
“We have yet to string four good quarters,” Reyes once said when asked about what specifically within TNT is he trying to improve.
On the cusp of glory entering Game 5, Reyes further shortened that vision: “Our entire focus is … not even the next game, but the first six minutes of the first quarter,” he said.
TNT ended the elimination round winning 10 of its 11 matches, losing only to the mighty San Miguel team, 83-67. The Tropang Giga secured the top seed and a quarterfinal bonus which they didn’t even have to use against the shorthanded Gin Kings. In the semifinals, TNT again played the Beermen, who were on a mission to reclaim the throne they once held for five straight years.
That series went the seven-game distance. TNT emerged from that treacherous route a sharper and tougher side.
More confident, too.
“We already pictured ourselves here, in the Finals. We saw this before. And I say that with all humility. If you want to get to a certain place, you have to see yourself [there] first, right?” Reyes said shortly after ditching San Miguel.
TNT took care of Magnolia in just five games using Williams as a battering ram—and ended up dusting off the three teams under the San Miguel Corp. banner that had won the previous 11 PBA titles.
The Filipino-American guard’s shooting was a puzzle simply too much for the Hotshots to solve.
With the victory, Reyes notched his sixth all-Filipino title, tying the legendary Baby Dalupan for most in league history. It was something worth celebrating.
But amid the confetti and in the din of the celebration at Don Honorio Ventura State U in Bacolor, Pampanga, Reyes refocused the team toward the future once again.
“[A]s much as we want to savor this, we’re now looking forward to the next,” he said. “On to the next, and we hope to compete well again.”
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