MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATED) TNT KaTropa is one game away from advancing to the semifinals of the 2017 PBA Commissioner's Cup after crushing the Meralco Bolts, 102-84, in Game 1 of their quarterfinals series Monday at the Araneta Coliseum.
The KaTropa roared to a huge lead early, weathered Meralco's third-quarter run, and then built an unassailable advantage in the payoff period to seize a 1-0 advantage in their best-of-three series.
It was a breakthrough win for TNT, which has lost five straight games to Meralco since the semifinals of the 2016 PBA Governors' Cup. Meanwhile, the Bolts continue to falter and have now lost four consecutive games in the tournament.
"Offensively, we were just blessed to have contributions from almost everybody today," TNT coach Nash Racela said after the game. "It doesn't normally happen, but at least today, it really helped us."
"Defensively, I think it was very decent today and made it hard for Meralco to make their shots," he added.
Jayson Castro led TNT with 25 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists, while import Joshua Smith added 19 points in just 18 minutes of playing time. The KaTropa shot 51% from the field and out-rebounded Meralco, 47-36.
They set the tone right from the opening tip, when they ran out to a 13-6 lead. Racela opted to bring Smith off the bench, but the gambit worked as Meralco had no answer for Kelly Williams, who had eight points in the first period of the contest.
TNT built a 42-27 halftime lead but Meralco battled back in the third quarter, coming to within one possession, 51-53, with 4:55 left after Chris Newsome's and-1 play. However, the KaTropa had an answer every time the Bolts got too close, and in the third period it came in the form of booming triples from RR Garcia.
"That's the PBA. You get a sizable lead, you expect in the second half that the other team will be able to come back," Racela said. "Ganoon talaga, that's the story of the PBA. The message is you can't relax, and you just have to do your best every possession."
Garcia's second triple of the quarter gave TNT a 69-59 lead heading into the fourth frame, and Castro took over from there as his personal 7-0 run gave the KaTropa an 88-67 lead with 6:33 to play. The lead ballooned to 24 points, 93-69, off Anthony Semerad's triple with five minutes left before both teams emptied their benches.
"I'm expecting them to make a lot of adjustments," Racela said of Meralco. "We can only anticipate. They've got a good coaching staff, so for sure they'll spend hours watching game tape. We'll do the same, and we'll try to anticipate a lot of things."
Newsome had 21 points, three rebounds, and four assists, but committed five of Meralco's 17 turnovers. Import Alex Stepheson grabbed 16 boards, but managed only nine points on 4-of-11 shooting. The Bolts, as a team, shot only 44% from the field.
Game 2 of the best-of-3 series is on Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum.
TNT 102 - Castro 25, Smith 19, Tautuaa 13, Rosario 9, Garcia 9, Reyes 6, Semerad 5, Pogoy 4, Nuyles 2, De Ocampo 0, Rosales 0, Golla 0, Carey 0.
MERALCO 84 - Newsome 21, Amer 14, Dillinger 12, Hugnatan 11, Yeo 10, Stepheson 9, Caram 3, Hodge 2, Uyloan 2, Faundo 0, Nabong 0, Bono 0.
Quarterscores: 25-13, 42-27, 69-59, 102-84
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