PBA playoffs: TNT has tools to battle top-ranked Magnolia

PBA playoffs: TNT has tools to battle top-ranked Magnolia

/ 04:30 AM January 16, 2024

PBA playoffs TNT Magnolia i Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson

Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson (with ball) has drawn raves from coaching staff as a last-minute import replacement. —MARLO CUETO/INQUIRER.net

TNT coach Jojo Lastimosa could hardly enjoy his charges’ 116-96 win over Phoenix Super LPG on Sunday night—even if it gifted the Tropang Giga the last playoff spot in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup.

He knew exactly what it meant: Facing the top-seeded team of the conference in the knockout stage.


“Magnolia. How about that?” he said with a deep sigh as he made his way back to the team’s dugout at PhilSports Arena in Pasig City.


TNT will take on the Hotshots in a short series that begins this Wednesday at the same venue, needing to win two straight times to make the next phase of the playoffs and live up to early projections that installed them as title favorites.

The Tropang Giga’s bid has been riddled with health problems. Injuries have kept defensive big man Poy Erram in sick bay and forced cornerstone Jayson Castro from playing critical matches. A heart problem also denied the club one of its top guns, Roger Pogoy, for most of the elimination round, leaving only Calvin Oftana and a bunch of role players and rookies to hold the fort.

But relief has finally come for Lastimosa, which was pretty evident in the triumph over the Fuel Masters that night. Pogoy finally returned and even managed to finish with 11 points in his first basketball game in six months, while Castro managed to see action for about 10 minutes. Rookie Kim Aurin proved he is worth the minutes with his career-best 18 points, while import Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson is looking more and more a gem of a pickup for the squad.

“There were a lot of heroes for us tonight. Other than Kim, Brian (Heruela) also played splendidly well. Roger, his first game in six months? His energy was infectious,” Lastimosa said.

“He’s not bad, right? He’s not so bad as the other brother,” he said of Hollis-Jefferson in jest. “Rondae told me, all his life, Rahilir was getting compared to him. But it turns out, he’s a decent, all-around player. And he can contribute—definitely contribute.”Whether those developments are going to be enough to take down the defensive juggernaut in Magnolia in a race-to-two duel remains to be seen. But Lastimosa has other ways of approaching the series.

Competing each time

“Just avoid getting blown out,” he said with a chuckle. “But kidding aside, in our losses this conference—aside from the one against Meralco—we were competing.


“Even when we went all-Filipino against Ginebra, we competed. And that has been one thing consistent for us. It just so happened that we didn’t have the lineup that we wanted (for this tournament), which is why towards the end, we fell short. But now with Roger back, I think we can now have enough guys to perform down the stretch,” Lastimosa said.

Meanwhile, twice-to-beat Phoenix takes on Meralco in a clash also set for Wednesday. And while the Fuel Masters wound up running away with the victory during their elimination round encounter, head coach Jamike Jarin remains vigilant.

“Meralco is a team that was supposed to be in the Top 4. But because of the quotient, they dropped to fifth [place],” he told reporters also on Sunday night.

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“It’s not gonna be easy. They have a full lineup right now, so it will just boil down to who wants it more. It’ll be interesting come Wednesday,” he added.


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