Tropang Giga on return trip to finals after crowding out Hotshots
TNT shut the door on Magnolia for the second straight season in the PBA Philippine Cup, and on Sunday, the Tropang Giga took the final step to have a chance at defending their crown.
Jayson Castro came through once again like he has done so many times in the past, scattering 26 points highlighted by the shots that helped in an 87-74 victory that helped eliminate the Hotshots in Game 6 of their highly-physical semifinal series at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
A crowd of more than 9,000 witnessed a vintage performance from the former Gilas Pilipinas hero, who made 11 points in the third that gave the Tropang Giga control of the contest that turned out to be the series-clincher.
His three-pointer with 2:48 to go in the fourth that made it 80-72 turned out to be the clincher as TNT progressed to the Finals against either Meralco or San Miguel Beer, with that series going to a Game 7 after the Bolts carved out a 96-92 stunner earlier in the night.
“I was able to see some opportunities for me to contribute for the team during this series,” said Castro in Filipino after being thrust into a bigger scoring load with Magnolia able to make TNT’s top gunner Mikey Williams work for his shots.
“I think I was able to find ways to contribute on offense and I’m glad that I was able to connect on my shots,” added Castro, who will now seek a fifth All-Filipino title and seventh overall, all with the TNT franchise.
The Tropang Giga ended the campaign of a Hotshots squad that fell short in its bid to avenge last year’s Philippine Cup Finals defeat in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Emotions were high as the physicality coupled with calls that agitated both TNT coach Chot Reyes and Magnolia counterpart Chito Victolero.
TNT overcame the loss of Poy Erram in the fourth with a Flagrant Foul 2 for hitting Ian Sangalang, but the Tropang Giga also capitalized on another foul-prone night by Calvin Abueva, who later in the period got his sixth.
Earlier, Aaron Black made a daring call to ask for the ball with Meralco staring at bidding adieu its dream of a landmark trip to the PH Cup Finals.
He responded by leading an unlikely comeback that kept the Bolts alive and well, scoring the last 13 points as Meralco rallied past fancied San Miguel Beer that sent their semifinal series to a decider.
Meralco was four minutes away from elimination, down 90-80, as the crowd understandably anticipated San Miguel’s return trip to the championship series.
But then Black took charge.
Black’s biggest basket came with 31.5 seconds left when he completed a three-point play off CJ Perez that put Meralco ahead, 93-90. Norman Black, Aaron’s Meralco coach and father, later said that he was glad his son was able to walk the talk.
“I’m happy that he took over the game today,” said the elder Black. “He told me to ‘Give me the ball and set pick and rolls and I’ll get it done,’ and he went out and did it.
“I’m really happy that he was able to back up what he’s saying on the basketball court,” added Black, who has been proud of how his son’s career has been “on the upward path.”