TNT dusts off Phoenix, braces for defense-oriented semis with Meralco
MANILA, Philippines–TNT was all business on Wednesday, March 22, 2023, scoring a 132-105 demolition of Phoenix to make the PBA Governors’ Cup semifinals, and coach Jojo Lastimosa is embracing a defensive battle that likely awaits his Tropang Giga whoever they end up facing.
“I like it. I like it so much,” Lastimosa said after the authoritative win at Smart Araneta Coliseum as he was pressed to elaborate when they face either Meralco or Magnolia, teams that the Tropang Giga can handle in terms of matchups and dealing with their knack for focusing more on making stops rather than winning through offense.
“I think we just need to play our game,” the cage legend said of TNT’s offense which tops the league with 118.5 points ahead of the best-of-five duel. “I think our offense is natural. When you see us [play], we’re not running any sets. They’re just playing.”
The Bolts advanced with a 113-107 victory later in the night after drawing 33 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists from Chris Newsome.
“Knowing that Meralco and Magnolia hold their opponents down to less than 100 [points], it’s going to be challenging. But I think this team is built for it (both teams’ defenses),” he added.
The two are the only squads in the field that limited foes below 100 points, with Magnolia ahead with an average of 99.3 as TNT faces the second-best defense in the conference in Meralco’s 99.8 average.
“I think we have the length to match up with them,” Lastimosa said. “I think we have enough guards to match up with their guards, and I’m fine with it.”
TNT took control of Phoenix in the second half, with Glenn Khobuntin, RR Pogoy and import Rondae Hollis-Jefferson leading the breakaway while getting valuable contributions as well from Jayson Castro, Calvin Oftana and Mikey Williams.
But the Tropang Giga’s triumph came at a price as they saw veteran Kelly Williams go down with a pulled calf muscle early, and Lastimosa was fearing that he could be out for the conference.
The Tropang Giga, however, saw the return of Poy Erram, who had been out since last conference after undergoing knee procedure. Erram played the latter part of the contest when the outcome was already settled.
Having Erram back is welcome news for the Tropang Giga, especially with Williams’ situation a major concern.
“We might need him down in the playoffs because now knowing that Kelly might have a season-ending injury,” said Lastimisa. “Poy is needed there in that lineup.”
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