MANILA, Philippines – The lack of Finals experience of several members of the TNT KaTropa was supposed to be an issue for Nash Racela's team heading into their championship series against the powerhouse San Miguel Beermen.
Racela himself noted that only six of his players have ever competed in a PBA Finals series before, and he was a rookie head coach. Nevertheless, the mentor was confident that his young players would not suffer from nerves, and instead rise to the occasion.
Proving Racela right in Game 1 of the best-of-seven Finals was rookie Roger Pogoy, who for long stretches of the game was the best player on the floor. The Far Eastern University product stunned the Beermen with a career-high 27 points in what turned out to be a 104-102 win for TNT.
"Nagpapasalamat ako kay Coach Nash, kasi binigyan niya ako ng kumpiyansa, tapos sa lahat ng mga veterans, lahat ng mga teammates ko," said Pogoy, who has proven to be a perfect fit for TNT as a pro.
"Kaya parang 'pag maglaro (ako), parang wala lang, kasi lahat ng sinasabi nila, 'pag open, itira mo na," he explained.
[I'm grateful to Coach Nash for giving me the confidence, as well as to all my veteran teammates. They just tell me to shoot whenever I'm open.]
It may have been Pogoy's first Finals game in the PBA, but the Cebuano guard is not new to big game situations. He won a UAAP title in Season 78 – with Racela as his coach – and has also suited up for Gilas Pilipinas, most recently in the SEABA Championships in May.
So when the team's veterans advised him to simply relax and enjoy in his first PBA Finals game, Pogoy had no trouble following their instructions.
"Sabi nila enjoy the game, kasi first Finals ko," said the 25-year-old guard. "Sabi enjoy lang, huwag ma-pressure. 'Yun ang palaging sinasabi nila."
[They just told me to enjoy this game because it's my first Finals, and not to feel pressured.]
It obviously helped that Pogoy played alongside Jayson Castro, who attracted such defensive attention from San Miguel that the rookie was often left wide open for shots.
"'Yun din ang factor, kasi naka-focus sila lahat kay Kuya Jayson," he noted. "Palagi akong libre."
[They're all so focused on Kuya Jayson so I always find myself open.]
Pogoy made 10 of his 20 shots, including five of nine three-pointers. He also had five rebounds and three steals, and was a team-high +20 at the end of the game.
Racela, who has overseen Pogoy's development into a superb two-way player since their FEU days, was not surprised that the rookie delivered during such a crucial game.
"I think that what I got from Roger today was the normal things that we were getting all along," Racela said after the contest.
"Maybe it was extra special, because he scored a lot – 27 points. But again, I think his defense was crucial, and that's something that we always require of him," he added. "I think he was just blessed today to hit three-pointers."
"That's something that is part of his arsenal."
Pogoy does not anticipate getting the same open looks in Game 2 on Friday, with San Miguel sure to make corrections on their defensive game plan. However, the rookie assured that he will be ready.
"Adjust din ako," he said. "Siguro, kung anong depensa ibibigay nila sa akin, maga-adjust din ako."
[I'm going to adjust to what the San Miguel defense gives me.]
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