With Game 1 win in back pocket, Chot Reyes wants TNT to get better
A wire-to-wire win got TNT off to a flying start in the semifinal series against the team it beat handily for the PBA Philippine Cup crown last season.
Yet coach Chot Reyes, whose team pummeled Magnolia, 108-96, in the opener of the best-of-seven affair on Wednesday at Smart Araneta Coliseum, is bracing for a long struggle.
“They’re a much-improved team,” Reyes said even after the Tropang Giga won the contest that saw them lead by a high of 24 points at one point. “I told the players before the series that we cannot expect that this is going to be the same as the last series because this is a different team.”
In the second game, San Miguel Beer showcased its class as the league’s top team and beat up a worn-out Meralco squad, 121-97.
CJ Perez scored 18 of his 25 points in the first half while Rodney Brondial had his best game in a Beermen uniform to complete a dominating win that put them ahead in their half of the best-of-seven semifinal series.
Brondial finished with a career-high 20 points and 11 rebounds.
“I was surprised with the way the players performed because I didn’t realize how self-motivated they were,” said San Miguel coach Leo Austria.
Perez’s 10 first quarter points helped Beermen go up, 33-17, while Brondial’s presence in both shaded lanes kept at bay the Bolts, who three days earlier knocked off Barangay Ginebra San Miguel in a tough three-game quarterfinal series.
Chris Banchero and Game 3 hero Raymond Almazan scored 17 and 16 points for Meralco. Chris Newsome, who had a triple-double in eliminating Ginebra, was limited to nine points, six rebounds and two assists while committing five turnovers.
TNT won the 2021 edition of the league’s most prestigious tournament in Bacolor, Pampanga, needing five games to take down a defensive-oriented Magnolia side.
Mikey Williams was named Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP) for his torrid shooting in the championship duel that saw TNT winning by an average margin of 13.8 points.
“We have to raise our level as well and hopefully we’d be able to do that on a game-by-game basis,” Reyes said.
Game 2 will be held on Friday at the same venue, with TNT looking to make it two in a row over Magnolia, which came into the contest three days removed from surviving a three-game quarterfinal tussle against NLEX.
“We’re not thinking of the past, we’re not thinking of the last series, we’re thinking of what’s in front of us. And what’s in front of us is Game 2,” continued Reyes.
Williams picked up where he left off in Bacolor, firing 12 of his 26 points in the second quarter which allowed the Tropang Giga to grab a big lead that the Hotshots couldn’t recover.
The Rookie of the Year and MVP runner-up of Season 46 echoed his coach’s sentiments about the difficult challenge that lies ahead for TNT despite the Game 1 outcome.
“I know it’s gonna be a tough series,” he said. “It’s a good team that we’re playing against. It’s gonna be scrappy and we just gotta play everything tough.”
RR Pogoy provided 23 points, Glenn Khobuntin had 18 points and seven rebounds while Jayson Castro made 10 of his 12 points off the bench during the first two periods.
Calvin Abueva posted 18 points and eight rebounds for the Hotshots in the defeat.