Jayson Castro didn’t want to face Barangay Ginebra and its legions of supporters in a do-or-die Game 5, so he made sure his TNT KaTropa took care of business in Game 4.
Castro scattered a game-high 38 points to go along with 11 assists as the KaTropa finished off the Kings, 122-109, in Game 4 of their semifinal series in the 2017 Oppo PBA Commissioner’s Cup at the Cuneta Astrodome.
TNT thus arranged a best-of-seven title duel against San Miguel Beer for the Commissioner’s Cup crown after the Beermen also wrapped up their best-of-five semis series against Star on Friday.
“Give credit sa Ginebra,” Castro said. “Yung defense nila sa akin nung first three games sobrang tight talaga. Sabi lang ni Coach (Nash Racela) maging aggressive ako.”
Castro took his coach’s words to heart as he set his conference-high in points, and his highest individual output since he dropped 42 against the Phoenix Fuel Masters in last year’s Governor’s Cup quarterfinals.
Ginebra was riding high on their dominant 125-101 Game 3 victory, and early on it looked like they still had momentum as they raced to a 14-6 lead. Trailing by six at the end of one, the KaTropa eventually settled down in the second period, outscoring the Kings 37-28 to grab a 66-63 edge heading into the halftime break.
The KaTropa appeared to take control of the game when the second half got underway, surging ahead at 86-74 on a jump shot by Anthony Semerad with 7:25 to go in the third. But the Kings, as expected, fought back, uncorking a 16-5 run to cut the lead to one, at which point TNT got a scare after import Joshua Smith, who played just 10 minutes in Game 3 after injuring his foot, asked to be subbed out.
With 2:34 left in the third period and TNT hanging on to a 91-90 lead, Smith limped off the court and headed to the locker room after stepping on Kelly Williams’ foot. It wasn’t clear if he would return. But after getting treatment, the hukling reinforcement reentered the game at the 10:04 mark and Ginebra already ahead 99-98 following a Japeth Aguilar jumper. Whatever was ailing him, Smith shook it off and helped TNT down the stretch.
Ginebra surged ahead 103-98 but Ranidel De Ocampo scored five straight points to knot it up with 8:04 left. After a Tenorio triple, the KaTropa, with Castro leading the way, went on a murderous 19-1 run to put the game away at 122-107 with only 1:45 to go. A meaningless dunk from Japeth Aguilar pegged the final score, and the KaTropa were on their way to their first finals appearance in two years.
Waiting for them are the Beermen, winners of four of the last seven PBA championships. Castro knows all too well what their team is up against.
“Alam naman natin ang SMB ay top team,” he said. “Siguro maging ready lang kami especially sa defense.”
Aguilar led Ginebra with 31 points, while Justin Brownlee added 25. The Kings finished the elimination round as the top seed, but it went for naught as they fell short of the championship round after making the finals of the previous two conferences.
TNT 122 – Castro 38, Smith 18, Garcia 16, Williams 14, Pogoy 13, De Ocampo 9, Semerad 5, Tautuaa 4, Reyes 3, Rosales 2, Rosario 0.
GINEBRA 109 – Aguilar 31, Brownlee 25, Tenorio 20, Devance 14, Thompson 10, Ellis 6, Marcelo 2, Mercado 1, Ferrer 0.
Quarterscores: 29-35, 66-63, 95-92, 122-109.
– TNT’s last finals appearance was in the 2015 Commissioner’s Cup, when they outlasted Rain or Shine in seven grueling games to win it all under Coach Jong Uichico.
– The TNT and SMB franchises will be meeting in the Commissioner’s Cup finals for the first time ever. They battled twice in the finals in the 2010-2011 season, with Talk ‘N Text winning the Philippine Cup in six games and Petron denying the Tropang Texters a grand slam by capturing the Governors’ Cup in seven.
– The finals will feature twins Anthony and David Semerad on opposite sides. Additionally, the De Ocampo brothers Yancy and Ranidel will also face off.
June 21 – 7:00PM TNT vs. San Miguel Game 1 of the Commissioner’s Cup finals at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum