AGAINST team adversity and a swell of daunting Ginebra momentum buoyed by its legion of fans, TNT Katropa brandished tremendous character on Saturday night to move a step closer to reliving recent lost glory in the PBA.
The Texters showed steely nerves with an all-Filipino lineup down the stretch as they eliminated the Gin Kings, 122-109, in front of a pro-Ginebra crowd at the Cuneta Astrodome to arrange a Commissioner’s Cup Finals showdown against San Miguel Beer.
Jayson Castro came through with the biggest plays down the stretch after hurting import Joshua Smith gave all he had and kept the Texters afloat earlier as they finished off the Gin Kings in four games in their best-of-five semifinal series.
The Texters booked their 17th Finals appearance overall, but only their first since the 2015 edition of the midseason tournament where they went on the win the championship.
“I know we’re going to this game facing a Ginebra crowd and lahat nung favor is on them, but it’s the Lord’s favor that matters,” TNT coach Nash Racela said in the post-game conference where he showed his game notes that contained a bible passage. “It was our focus and composure that really helped us a lot today.”
“(And another thing) that says here, ‘In the Lord’s presence, there’s fullness of joy,” the young mentor added. “The whole game, especially when Ginebra making a run in the third quarter, that’s all that I was thinking. I know it’s always the Lord that has control over everything.”
“Kaya dun sa game, alam ko na as long as we do the right things, we commit to things we really need to do, good things will happen. And in the end, we survived Ginebra,” he continued.
And survive the Texters did as they squandered a 12-point third-quarter lead, but refused to budge in the payoff period where they took the Gin Kings’ best punches yet still stood standing as they ended the game on a backbreaking 17-3 run.
Castro left a huge imprint in the entire game, exploding for 38 points on 13-of-21 shooting in 35 minutes after averaging a mere 7.7 points in the first three games, topping his offensive onslaught with 11 assists, seven boards, and two steals.
The Blur also saved his best for last as he had a hand in nine of the Texters’ last 11 points, highlighted by picking Justin Brownlee’s pocket just moments after a Ginebra timeout, leading to a breakaway layup that gave them a double-digit lead again at 118-107, practically sealing the deal with 2:53 left.
Smith, nursing a foot injury, poured in 18 points, five boards, two assists, and one block in 21 minutes before leaving at the 6:26 mark.
Japeth Aguilar led the Gin Kings with 31 points, seven rebounds, and three blocks in 35 minutes, while Brownlee finished with 25 points, 15 boards, seven assists, and three blocks in 45 minutes, although the do-it-all Ginebra import was held scoreless in the last 11 minutes of the game.
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