TROPANG TNT overcame the absence of its suspended import and the explosion of Carlo Lastimosa to survive Blackwater, 108-102, and start its PBA Commissioner’s Cup title defense on the right track Wednesday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The Texters, missing prolific, yet temperamental Ivan Johnson and injured rookie big man Troy Rosario, gained a boost from the return of Ranidel de Ocampo, who played his first game in over three months after sustaining a back injury during the Philippine Cup.
Jayson Castro slowed down after a hot first half, but delivered when it mattered most by scoring on a triple that put an end to the Elite’s late comeback led by the fiery Lastimosa, who reset his career-high to 39 points.
“Buti nakalusot ng walang import,” Texters coach Jong Uichico said. “Credit to the players na maski walang import, laban pa rin sila.”
De Ocampo, who had been sidelined with a scary back injury, returned like he never left, scattering 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting, four boards, three assists, and two steals in 28 minutes.
Castro had been scoreless after firing 19 points in 17 minutes in the first two quarters until burying a top-of-the-key three-pointer over Mike Cortez with 53 seconds left that spared the Texters the blushes after nurturing a 14-point lead early in the fourth.
Elite import MJ Rhett failed to take take advantage of the import-less Texters, finishing with just 16 points and seven boards against five turnovers in 45 minutes in his debut.
Rhett, though, buried two free throws that capped of an Elite run that trimmed the deficit to just one, 103-102 with a little over a minute left, before Castro made that booming triple that put the outcome beyond doubt.