TNT not fussing over Ginebra assignment after routing NorthPort
Coach Jojo Lastimosa may be excited about TNT’s Friday night showdown with Barangay Ginebra, but he’s not using it as a gauge going into the business end of the PBA Governors’ Cup.
“Being No. 1 or No. 2, it doesn’t really matter,” Lastimosa said after the Tropang Giga moved a win shy of taking the top seed in the quarterfinals with a 134-110 mauling of the NorthPort Batang Pier on Wednesday at PhilSports Arena in Pasig City.
“It would be nice to win over Ginebra. But again, it’s just an elimination game,” he added. “Even if we win over Ginebra, it doesn’t mean that we are going deep into the playoffs. What I’m trying to say is, it’s just one game. I’m sure it’s gonna be an exciting game to watch and play in, and I’m excited for that Friday game.”
TNT remained on top with a 9-1 (win-loss) record going into the clash with a Ginebra squad idling in second spot at 8-2 after five straight victories.
A loss for TNT in that match will drag the Tropang Giga out of the top spot. And even if they will continue carrying a twice-to-beat card in the quarterfinals, danger lurks.
The difference between being No. 1 and No. 2 in the first round of the playoffs is facing either an opponent that was nearly forced to a knockout match to make the quarterfinals or a team that was a win short of also qualifying for a twice-to-beat bonus.
For now, TNT is reveling in a win that soothes a pair of beatings sustained abroad.
The Tropang Giga prevailed in their first game since absorbing embarrassing defeats in the East Asia Super League (EASL) Champions Week in Japan, an outcome Lastimosa felt would have been avoided had they fielded import Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
Hollis-Jefferson, who dominated NorthPort for 31 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and four steals, didn’t make the trip to Japan due to visa issues, forcing TNT to use its original import Jalen Hudson to team up with big man Daniel Ochefu.
‘Missing my defense’
“Our only wish was that if we could have just Rondae as our import, we would have been just fine. That’s all I can say,” said Lastimosa about the sour experience of dropping both games to B.League outfit Utsunomiya Brex and Korean Basketball League side Seoul SK Knights.
Hollis-Jefferson agrees “100 percent wholeheartedly” after seeing action for the first time since Feb. 19 when TNT defeated San Miguel Beer on a buzzer-beating putback by Calvin Oftana.
“I [saw] that they were missing my defense and that kind of camaraderie we’ve built in those three games that I was here,” said Hollis-Jefferson.
“I kinda got hit with the wrench when they said that I couldn’t play and they had to bring Jalen back in and players were getting injured. It was kinda uncomfortable. I felt like on the defensive end and as a team aspect I could have helped.”
But with the EASL done, Hollis-Jefferson can only look at what’s next, and that’s to put TNT in a position to go deep.
That is something NorthPort couldn’t do after the loss ended its hopes of staying alive in the quarters race.
NorthPort ended the elims at 3-8, falling one win shy of forcing a playoff with Phoenix for the eighth and last seat in the next phase of the season-ending conference.