Battle for finals berths comes to a head

    LOSING CONTROL: Pursued by three TNT defenders, Calvin Abueva of Phoenix loses control of the leather in Game 4 won by the Tropang Giga. PBA PHOTO

    TNT’s gamble paid off handsomely and the burden of coming up with something new is now with Phoenix Super LPG.

    With that in mind, the Tropang Giga must be ready for whatever the Fuel Masters may come up with today in the deciding game of their PBA Philippine Cup semifinals series at the Smart 5G-powered AUF Sports Arena in Angeles City.

    Ginebra and Meralco also duke it out in their own win-or-go home game later in the night, a match forged by the Bolts’ 83-80 squeaker last Wednesday that tied their race-to-three series at two games apiece.

    For Meralco, the game is its fourth do-or-die game in the bubble and the attitude is still the same as it was during its quarterfinals series against twice-to-beat San Miguel Beer.

    “Just like in our battle with San Miguel, we have to win two games to move to the next stage. We’re halfway through,” said Bolts coach Norman Black, whose optimism is well-founded.

    The Meralco defense harassed Ginebra into committing a total 23 miscues in Game 4 which gave the Bolts a whopping plus-23 advantage in points off turnovers.

    Chris Newsome, Reynel Hugnatan, Cliff Hodge and Raymond Almazan were also mainly responsible for boosting Meralco to a plus-16 advantage in points in the paint.

    At least as big is the concern of Phoenix after TNT eked out a 102-101 decision last Wednesday that cut short the Fuel Masters’ two-game roll in the series.

    As promised, the Tropang Giga did their own adjustments in Game 4 by starting Jayson Castro and Jay Washington and playing small ball for majority of the contest, the latter to match the Fuel Masters’ energy.

    TNT coach Bong Ravena explained the twin moves by pointing out that Castro, who scored 17 of his 21 points in the first half, gave them the good start they had wanted while Washington anchored their inside defense as proven by his three blocks on top of five rebounds and six points.

    That doesn’t mean the Tropa have given up on main big men Poy Erram and Troy Rosario even if the two struggled mightily in Game 4, however.

    “Naniniwala pa rin naman kami kay Poy, kay Troy. Alam namin lalabas din ‘yan, lalabas din laro nila. We’re not giving up on them. Kasama pa rin sila sa rotation. We’re hoping na makalaro sila nang maayos,” said Ravena.

    Actually, Phoenix needs no major re-alignment in its game plan.

    Although the Tropa posted a couple of 17-point leads in the third quarter the Fuel Masters managed to fight back and make a game of it in the stretch.

    Like TNT, defense remains a priority for Phoenix, especially containing Rayray Parks, Castro, Roger Pogoy and Simon Enciso.

    Parks, in particular, exploded for 25 of his game-high 36 points in the second half. That included 17 in the final canto that kept the charging Fuel Masters at bay.

    Matthew Wright almost matched Parks’ output with 34 points on top of nine assists and Calvin Abueva, Jason Perkins, Justin Chua and RJ jazul did their part. But the expected usual contributions from the likes RR Garcia, Alex Mallari, JC Intal and Brian Heruela did not materialize.