MANILA, Philippines – The TNT KaTropa survived a vintage game from James Yap and turned back the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, 105-102, in their final elimination round game of the 2017 PBA Commissioner's Cup on Sunday at the Ynares Center in Antipolo.
Rookie Roger Pogoy drained the go-ahead shot with 26.8 seconds left after a broken play, and Yap's impressive performance was marred by free throw woes in the final minute that allowed TNT to come away with the tight win.
TNT finished the eliminations with an 8-3 win-loss record, keeping them in the hunt for a Top 2 seed that carries with it a twice-to-beat edge in the quarterfinals. Rain or Shine, the defending Commissioner's Cup champions, dropped to 5-6 and will almost certainly play in a best-of-3 in the quarterfinals.
"I don't know if there is any chance (for the Top 2), but I think at this point, what's important is not to be at the twice-to-beat disadvantage," TNT coach Nash Racela said after the game. "Ang importante is for us to secure the best-of-3. It depends on the next couple of games."
The KaTropa led comfortably for most of the first half, even leading by 16 points twice in the second period. Their victory seemed secure when ROS import Duke Crews was thrown out with 6:51 left in the third quarter after being assessed a technical foul. Crews had already been called for a flagrant in the opening period, thus his ejection.
TNT had a 60-51 lead at the time of Crews' exit, yet instead of falling apart, the Elasto Painters rallied. Jewel Ponferada conspired with Don Trollano to cap an 11-3 run that made it a one-point game, 62-63, with still four minutes to play in the third quarter.
"We've been in the PBA for so long na at this point, we already know that no lead is safe in the PBA," Racela said. "So importante is for every team to continuously play hard."
A strong wind-up to the third period allowed TNT to head into the fourth with a 78-71 lead, but the Elasto Painters continued to chip away at the deficit. Big shots by Ranidel de Ocampo helped keep ROS at bay, with his lay-up making it 95-88 with five minutes left.
That was when Yap took over. The former PBA MVP, who entered the game 50 points shy of 10,000 career points, scored five straight points to make it a one-possession game, then helped clear the way for Raymond Almazan's slam dunk that tied the contest at 95.
After a triple by Jeff Chan gave Rain or Shine a brief 98-97 lead, TNT import Joshua Smith nailed back-to-back shots to make it a three-point game once more, 101-98. Yap was not done, however, as he came up with a vintage three-point play to tie the game for the last time at 101 with still 1:04 to go.
Yap had the chance to cap his heroics with the go-ahead free throws, but shockingly muffed both charities with less than a minute left. Pogoy, whose foul had given Yap the freebies, made up for his error by hitting the go-ahead shot on the other end for a 103-101 lead with just 26.8 seconds left.
Rain or Shine still had their chances, and again they went to Yap. Unfortunately, he missed two lay-ups, and after being fouled on the second attempt, he made only the second of two freebies. Ranidel De Ocampo made it a three-point lead with two clutch free throws, and the Elasto Painters could not execute their final play as Chan's triple hit the board as time expired.
De Ocampo finished with 21 points, while Smith had 23 points and 12 boards in the game. TNT could have won more comfortably, but they converted only 19 of 37 free throw attempts in the contest.
Yap finished with 23 points, putting him 27 points away from joining the PBA's 10,000-point club. Chan had 18 points, and Crews had nine points and 17 rebounds before his ejection.
The KaTropa were in control, 22-16, at the end of the opening frame, but it was the re-entry of Troy Rosario midway through the second period that helped the build a more comfortable lead.
Rosario anchored a 10-2 run that turned a 31-23 lead into a 41-25 advantage with 5:28 left in the first half, as he regularly beat the Rain or Shine big men to the rim with his athleticism. TNT was able to maintain its lead the rest of the way as they pounced on the Elasto Painters' foul-prone ways.
The TNT lead was at 16, 51-35, with 39.3 seconds to go in the second quarter, before Rain or Shine ended the half with back-to-back lay-ups to head into the break with a more manageable 51-39 deficit.
TNT 105 - Smith 23, De Ocampo 21, Rosario 11, Reyes 10, Pogoy 10, Tautuaa 9, Garcia 9, Rosales 5, Castro 3, Williams 3, Semerad 1, Carey 0.
RAIN OR SHINE 102 - Yap 23, Chan 18, Belga 13, Cruz 9, Crews 9, Ponferada 6, Trollano 6, Almazan 6, Washington 5, Tolomia 4, Ahanmisi 3, Norwood 0, Robles 0.
Quarter scores: 22-16, 51-39, 78-71, 105-102.
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