5:45 p.m. — SMB vs TNT
*Series tied, 1-1
BACK-to-back or fightback?
San Miguel Beer (SMB) and titleholder TNT wage a fierce battle for the upperhand tonight in a deadlocked PBA Philippine Cup title duel that’s been true to form in terms of intensity and competitiveness through two matches.
The Tropang Giga rallied from 15 points down to wrest the opener, 86-84, leaning on Jayson Castro’s jumper at the death to pull through last Sunday. Then the former All-Filipino royalty Beermen, unleashing a strong finishing kick, countered with a 109-100 victory last Wednesday.
This makes the 5:45 p.m. Game 3 at the MOA Arena an explosive dispute for the driver’s seat in a series that’s been transformed into a virtual race-to-three affair from hereon.
“TNT is really a strong team. Well-oiled sila, well-coached, they know how to run their plays because they’ve been playing together for so long, including the national team,” said Beermen coach Leo Austria.
TNT tries to rebound and regain control in time for coach Chot Reyes’ return from his Lebanon trip with Gilas Pilipinas.
“The team’s mindset is to learn from the Game 2 loss and make our own adjustments and get ready for a tough Game 3,” said assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga, who is manning the fort together with Yuri Escueta for the second straight game without Mr. Reyes.
One big source of concern for the Tropang Giga, though, is the condition of gunner Mikey Williams, who hurt his leg in the first quarter of Wednesday’s game and limped with seven points.
“Hopefully, Mikey (Williams) will be good to go. We still don’t know as of now,” said Mr. Arespacochaga.
Banged-up and all, Mr. Williams is determined to plunge into action.
“I’ll be ready for Game 3,” he said after the second game. “I will do whatever I have to do. If it’s a cryo chamber or an ice batch, I’ll figure out a way to get better.”
RR Pogoy has been on fire for TNT with Mr. Williams the primary target of SMB’s offense. The Cebuano sniper averages 27 markers in the series.
For San Miguel, June Mar Fajardo has been a rock. And if backup bigs Vic Manuel and Mo Tautuaa get in the mix just like in Game 2, that makes for an almost unstoppable force inside for the Beermen.
Messrs. Manuel and Tautuaa combined for 31 points and eight boards and sparked SMB’s breakaway at the start of the fourth.
Then there’s SMB’s veteran guard Chris Ross, who dished out 10 assists and grabbed seven rebounds to go with his four-point outing in their series-tying win.
“Chris Ross is distributing the ball very well,” said Mr. Austria. — Olmin Leyba