By JONAS TERRADO
Game Wednesday (Smart Araneta Coliseum)
7 p.m. – TNT KaTropa vs San Miguel
Jayson Castro found the right time to deliver one of the greatest performances of his career and carry rookie coach Nash Racela, hobbling import Joshua Smith and TNT KaTropa in the finals of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup.
His shooting a non-factor in the previous three games of the best-of-five semifinal series, Castro erupted for 38 points to lead TNT past Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, 122-109, last night and arrange a showdown with the San Miguel Beermen for the title of the league’s midseason conference.
Castro made 13-of-21 shots that included five triples and scored 21 points in the second half highlighted by a masterful 16-3 run in the final six minutes in front of predominantly Ginebra crowd at the Cuneta Astrodome.
That allowed the KaTropa to capture the series, 3-1, and leapfrog into their first finals appearance since winning the Commissioner’s Cup crown two years ago.
Playing as if he was donning the Gilas Pilipinas jersey in a FIBA tournament, Castro’s mindset of taking charge when the going got tough inspired a TNT team that endured an ankle injury of Joshua Smith in Thursday’s Game 3 defeat and another gallant stand by a Ginebra side that kept the game close until the homestretch.
“Ang mindset ko lang going into Game 4 is maging aggressive even though alam ko na nag-iistruggle ako sa shots ko,” said Castro, whose shooting was dreadful since the series began.
In the first three games, Castro made just 9-of-32 shots from the field and missed 12-of-14 from rainbow country.
“Parang sinabi ko sa sarili ko na this is a do-or-die game, pag umabot ng Game 5, parang lalo pa kaming mado-down. Sabi ko lang sa sarili ko dapat itira ko yung mga wide-open shots with confidence at kailangan maging aggressive at maging example din sa mga young guys namin,” said Castro, who also had 11 assists and seven boards.
Racela earned a trip to the PBA’s grandest stage in only his second conference. After steering the Batangas Blades to the MBA crown in 2001 and Far Eastern University to the UAAP championship in 2015, he faces the daunting task of beating the powerhouse San Miguel lineup in a best-of-seven series.
“As long as we do the right things, we commit to the things that we really needed to do, good things will happen. And in the end, we survived,” said Racela after watching TNT blow a double-digit lead before battling Ginebra in an exchange of leads in the fourth.
The opener is set on Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, with TNT still unsure whether use Smith for the finals given his injured ankle he sustained in the 125-101 loss in Game 3.
TNT KATROPA 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, Caguioa 0.
Quarters: 29-35; 66-63; 95-92; 122-109.
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