HURTING and all, Joshua Smith still found a way to deliver for TnT Katropa.
Hobbling on an injured right foot, the hulking import scored on a soft hook shot to lift the Texters to a 104-102 upset of the San Miguel Beermen in the opener of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup finals on Wednesday night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
With the game tied at 102-all in the final 7.6 seconds, Smith took matter into his own hands after the Beermen wisely denied Jayson Castro who was tasked to take a shot at the game-winner in a final play drawn up by TNT coach Nash Racela.
The 25-year-old import dribbled his way to the basket before pulling off a hook shot against June Mar Fajardo that bounced twice off the rim before trickling in with 1.6 seconds to go.
Left with no timeout, San Miguel went to gunner Marcio Lassiter (0 of 6 from three-point range) for the final shot that was way off the mark at the buzzer in a surprising twist to the start of the best-of-seven finals.
“Joshua had the presence of mind to attack June Mar,” said Racela. “I screwed up on that final play because they’re denying all the small men. So he really had no choice but to make the play. And he did.”
Game Two of the best-of-seven series will be on Friday also at the Big Dome.
Rookie Roger Pogoy had a memorable finals debut as he showed the way for TnT with 27 points – 13 in the fourth period – while going 5-of-9 from three-point range. Smith had 21 and nine rebounds.
Jayson Castro for his part fell just a rebound short of a triple double with 14 points, nine rebounds, and 10 assists. Although he continued to struggle in the playoffs as he went 6-of-17 from the floor, the two-time best point guard in Asia hit a clutch three with 44 seconds left to give the Texters a 102-99 lead.
But the Beermen managed to tie the game at 102 after hitting three from the foul line, the last two courtesy of Chris Ross, the leading contender for the Best Player of the Conference award, in the final 7.6 seconds.
Racela said Smith’s situation remains day-to-day although the import according to him, felt a lot better on game day.
The injury to Smith was just among the health woes facing the Texters going to the finals. They also missed the services of veteran Ranidel de Ocampo (flu) and guard Ryan Reyes (sprained ankle).
“That’s something (win) to us is very important because it just means a lot of the other guys delivered today,” Racela added.
Import Charles Rhodes had 31 points – 21 in the opening half – and 13 rebounds for San Miguel, which battled back from as much as a 98-89 deficit behind the hot hands of Alex Cabagnot in the final five minutes to pave the way for the thrilling finish.
“We wanted this, but the breaks didn’t go our way,” said Beermen coach Leo Austria later.
Fajardo finished with an 18-point, 13-rebound output for San Miguel, Cabagnot added 16, while Ross and Arwind Santos each had 11.