January 23, 2018, 10:11 pm
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Racela, TNT survive Kings, gain title shot

TNT KATropa coach Nash Racela showed up in his team’s game against Ginebra armed with a couple of verses from the Bible and a slew of determined players.

Whether the religious approach helped is open to debate, but the KaTropa scored a 122-109 victory that sent them into the finals of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup.

Jayson Castro lived up to Racela’s expectations by registering a career-high-tying 38 points on top of 11 assists while Joshua Smith bucked a nagging foot injury to come off the bench for 18 points as TNT closed out the best of-five semifinals duel with a 3-1 win.

RR Garcia, Kelly Williams and Roger Pogoy also came up big as the KaTropa finally advanced to the finals for the first time since the 2015 edition of the mid-season tourney.

Racela is in his first championship stint in only his second conference with the team and he maintained that divine intervention played a key role.

“The whole game, I had this with me,” Racela said in the post-game press conference, showing off the notes he consulted from time to time in the course of the match played before a pro-Ginebra crowd.

“There are just two things (on it): Number one, ‘Not the numbers that matter, but the Lord’s hand in favor of us.’ I know we’re going to this game facing a Ginebra crowd and lahat nu’ng favor is on them, but it’s the Lord’s favor that matters. It was our focus and composure that really helped us a lot.

“(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 (was) 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 du’n 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.” 

Racela’s faith in Castro also proved well-founded as “The Blur” finally came up with the game that was sorely missing in the first three games of the series, including a 101-125 loss in Game 3 last Thursday that foiled TNT’s bid for a three-game sweep.

Castro went into the game averaging 7.7 points, 5.7 assists and 3.3 rebounds but shot 13 of 21 from the floor, including 5-of-8 from deep, while also finishing with seven boards and two steals. 

“I was telling you after Game One, you expect Jayson to explode,” said Racela. “We didn’t get that in Games 2 and 3. But today, he did.”

“He finds ways to contribute,” Racela shared of his star. “And I was telling somebody, earlier, if you see Jayson’s number in terms of points go down, it just means his assists number will go up, his rebounds will go up. And that just speaks of Jayson.”

For Castro, all it took was a slight adjustment on his mind-set going into the game. “For three games, sobrang tight ng defense nila, Defensively, meron sila sa’kin,” said Castro. “So going into Game 4, parang ‘yung mindset ko is to be aggressive na lang.

“Kapag tina-trap nila ako, or ‘yung mga may help, that’s the time na hanapin ko ‘yung mga teammates ko. Kasi ‘yung first three games ko parang mas hinahanap ko ‘yung teammates ko compared sa shot.”

All those were showcased most during a 17-1 rampage TNT unleashed midway in the payoff period where Castro poured in 10 of his output and Williams added eight of his 14 markers that erased a three-point deficit and pushed the KaTropa ahead for good 120-107.

Smith was on the bench in that run favoring a right foot injury he sustained early in Game 3 and aggravated when he stepped on Williams’ foot in the third period. He could have sat it out, but he would have none of it.

“Knowing how important this game (is), he decided to play,” related Racela. “He said, ‘Coach, I am hurting, but it will hurt me more if I don’t play.’

“And that’s the heart of a champion, and for that, we’re so thankful of Joshua.”

Actually, a new import, Mike Myers, had flown in early Saturday and should be ready had the series went into a decider.

It now seems Myers would be suiting up instead for the best-of-seven championship series against the Beermen that starts Wednesday at the Big Dome.
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