MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATED) TNT KaTropa is on its way to the PBA Philippine Cup playoffs.
The KaTropa claimed the eighth and last spot in the All-Filipino quarterfinals after crushing the Phoenix Fuel Masters, 118-97, in a knockout game on Sunday at the Araneta Coliseum.
With the victory, TNT set up a quarterfinals showdown against three-time defending champion San Miguel Beer on Tuesday, with the Beermen owning a twice-to-beat advantage against the KaTropa. It will be a rematch of last season's PBA Commissioner's Cup finals, and last season's Philippine Cup semifinals.
"Buhay pa," TNT coach Nash Racela said after the contest. "I think at this point of the conference, all you want is a day to live."
"Yeah, we're No. 8 and we're playing the No. 1 team, but again it is what it is. Importante is buhay pa, buhay pa kami," he added.
Jayson Castro flirted with a triple-double, tallying 17 points, nine assists, and eight rebounds. Troy Rosario had 18 points in just under 20 minutes, while Jericho Cruz also had 17 points in his second game in a TNT uniform.
The KaTropa settled for a slim 54-49 lead at the half, as Phoenix's aggression helped them stay in the game. The Fuel Masters made 12 of 15 free throws in the first half alone.
But TNT blew the game open in the third period, where they outscored Phoenix, 40-27. Castro was simply unstoppable, as he dropped 10 points and four dimes in the frame to key TNT's breakaway. The KaTropa opened the third quarter with a 16-3 run to surge to an 18-point lead, 70-52, and they never looked back.
They led by as much as 29 points, 112-83, in the fourth quarter as Phoenix never recovered from their third-quarter onslaught.
"What made that happen is them giving their all," Racela said of his team's hot third-quarter run.
"That's something we preach to the team. Sabi namin, you start, you don't start, (but) as long as you're on the floor, ang trabaho mo is to give your best," he added.
With the game well in hand, Racela had the luxury of sitting Rosario for the entirety of the fourth quarter. Castro and Roger Pogoy also played minimal minutes in the payoff period, which Racela hopes will pay off when they play San Miguel on Tuesday.
Matthew Wright led Phoenix with 18 points, 14 of which came in the first half. After making five of his nine attempts from the field in the first two quarters, he made only three of nine the rest of the way.
Doug Kramer had a 16-point, 11-rebound double-double for the Fuel Masters.
TNT 118 — Rosario 18, Castro 17, Cruz 17, Pogoy 15, Semerad 12, Williams 11, Tautuaa 10, Reyes 5, Garcia 4, Tamsi 4, Paredes 3, Nuyles 2, Carey 0, Golla 0, Torres 0.
PHOENIX 97 — Wright 18, Kramer 16, Alolino 13, Jazul 11, Perkins 10, Chan 9, Mendoza 7, Eriobu 5, Intal 4, Guevarra 2, Wilson 2, Cortes 0, Dehesa 0, Gamboa 0.
Quarters: 27-25, 54-49, 94-76, 118-97.
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