Veteran smarts: Kelly Williams has TNT on the brink of the Philippine Cup finals

February 17, 2017

by: Carlo Pamintuan

TNT's Kelly Williams. (PBA Media Bureau)
TNT’s Kelly Williams. (PBA Media Bureau)

 

As the buzzer sounded at the end of Game 5, Kelly Williams clutched the ball between his hands. He grabbed the last rebound of the game, the seventh for the contest. Machine Gun Kelly, as he is called, was approached by Larry Fonacier who showed his appreciation for his fellow veteran’s effort that helped them get a 101-94 victory and a 3-2 series lead against the two-time defending champion San Miguel Beermen.

Then he was approached by Ryan Reyes, his old teammate. Now it may seem like the veterans of TNT are all “old teammates.” But Reyes and Williams are a little different. They go way back.

After being selected first overall by the Sta. Lucia Realtors in 2006, he teamed up with Reyes, the third pick overall in 2007. Together they extended the life of the franchise, winning the 2007-08 Philippine Cup title.

And then they were traded away by the team that was on its way out of the league. The Realtors’ demise turned out to be one of the best things that happened to TNT.

It was a three-team, nine-player deal. Katropa received Williams and Reyes. Sta. Lucia got Ali Peek, Nic Belasco, Pong Escobal, Ogie Menor and Yousif Aljamal, and Barako Energy Coffee Mark Isip and a pick for their troubles.

The results of that trade were undeniable. After acquiring the 2008 PBA MVP and 2008 Rookie of the Year, the team won five more championships. However, things have slowed down for them after they won the 2015 PBA Commissioner’s Cup title. With that, TNT started to change. They started adding younger players to their lineup which also meant less minutes for Williams and even Reyes.

Williams normed 8.3 points and 5.5 rebounds in the elimination round but it seems like he was able to turn back the hands of time in the semifinals. In five games, the forward gets 14.4 points and 5.8 rebounds against the Beermen but, beyond these numbers, it is his effort in defending June Mar Fajardo that has been one of the keys that led to TNT’s series advantage.

“We’re jelling finally,” Williams said after he was named the Best Player of the Game. “We got a good mix of young guys and veterans and everyone’s doing their part. It’s all effort from everybody. I can’t speak enough about the heart of this team.”

In Game 5, TNT head coach Nash Racela veered away from the usual balance of minutes between his veterans and the young guns. In their biggest game of the conference, the young coach went back to the guys who knew how to win big games, and Williams was definitely a part of that crew.

“Hindi namin napa-practice mula nung elimination yung maglaro kaming mga beterano na magkakasama,” said Ranidel De Ocampo. “Lagi may kasama kaming bata. Kanina medyo nanumbalik yung dati. Gamay namin yung bawa’t isa.”

The TNT veterans scored 75 points with their young players only chipping in 26. Williams had 18 points. So did De Ocampo and Jayson Castro. Reyes chipped in 9 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists.

Williams knows that he is no longer the player that he was before. The years have slowly crept up to him and along the health issues he had to deal with in the past few years, Machine Gun Kelly may not be the athlete he once was but that does not mean he’ll stop trying to help his team out.

His approach in basketball is more mental now. He prepares his mind for the task at hand and saves up his energy by not warming up as much in the pre-game.

“It was a hard fought game. They came out with everything,” Williams said. “But I’m proud of my guys for responding against an incredibly talented team.”

“I think [the next game is] going to be the same as the whole series. It’s going to be rough, it’s going to be tough. Obviously June Mar is a multi MVP and it’s going to be hard to stop him. I’m going to try the best I can, I’m sure coach is going to do the best he can to draw up the right schemes and I know my teammates got my back there too. San Miguel has a reputation for coming back. We gotta make sure we come out ready to play. They will come out super strong but I think we can win if we play like we did tonight.”

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