MANILA, Philippines – TNT coach Nash Racela would not give a definite answer when asked if hefty import Joshua Smith will suit up for the KaTropa in Game 1 of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals against San Miguel, opting to say instead that he was “optimistic.”
Smith had suffered a foot injury that limited him in Game 3 of TNT’s semifinals series against Barangay Ginebra, and he had only four points in less than 10 minutes of action in the 125-101 loss. However, he returned in their series-clinching 122-109 win in Game 4, scoring 18 points.
Ahead of their Finals series, Smith said he is still “taking it day by day.”
“I feel good,” he expressed during a press conference in Eastwood on Monday. “The last two days have really helped. I’m ready.”
However, when asked if he was going to play in Game 1, Smith opted to merely nod instead of offering a more concrete answer.
“I’m always optimistic,” Racela himself said when asked of Smith’s Game 1 status. However, the coach also acknowledged that they have brought in a potential replacement in Mike Myers, who was also in attendance during Monday’s press conference.
Racela added that Myers has already attended a couple of practices, but they remain hopeful that Smith can suit up for TNT for the remainder of the tournament.
“At this point, if we could, we want to stick with Joshua,” said Racela.
“He’s familiar with the game, with the PBA, the officiating,” the coach explained. “He’s been with the team for a month and a half. So the question is, why replace him if he can play? If we can stick with him until the last game, then we will.”
Pressed for Smith’s Game 1 status, Racela said: “If he can play in Game 1, then yeah, we’ll stick with him.”
The 6-foot-9, 330-pound Smith is currently averaging 23 points and 11 rebounds per game for the KaTropa.
More than his numbers, however, his willingness to play through pain has been a boost to his local teammates.
“Siya mismo ang nasasabi na kaya niyang maglaro,” said TNT star Jayson Castro, who carried the load for the KaTropa in Game 4 of the semifinals with Smith still hobbling. “Para marinig ‘yun as a local, ‘yung motivation namin, tumataas. Gusto niya ring mag-champion eh.”
[He says he wants to play, and to hear that gives us even more motivation. He also wants to win the championship.]
Game 1 of the best-of-7 Finals series is on Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum.
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