MANILA, Philippines – The TNT KaTropa leaned on another monster performance from import Joshua Smith to hold off Barangay Ginebra, 100-94, and take a 1-0 lead in their 2017 PBA Commissioner's Cup semifinals series on Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Despite facing double or even triple teams all game long, Smith was utterly unstoppable, and the hulking import finished with 35 points – 29 of which came in the second half – on top of 13 rebounds, 11 of which came on the offensive end.
But it was Jayson Castro who finished off the Gin Kings, as he knocked down the booming three-pointer with just 12.2 seconds left to peg the final score after Ginebra had come to within one-possession.
Castro had only four points, with his triple serving as his lone field goal of the game. He added six assists and was a plus-15 in the game.
"Again, just like in the game (against Meralco), if you give him (Smith) the minutes, he'll give you the numbers," TNT Coach Nash Racela said after their victory. "I think today he had 35 (points). Rebounds siguro, not that much."
"But again, it's because of Ginebra's defense. They're really concentrated on neutralizing Joshua, almost like having two or three guys on him every single time," he added.
The 6-foot-10 Smith, who came off the bench for the third time in four games, was in foul trouble in the first half and thus mustered only five points. But he found his rhythm in the second half, torching the Ginebra defenders with his deft touch around the basket and passing ability.
His bucket with 6:21 left gave the KaTropa an 87-79 lead, before the Gin Kings clawed their way back behind Scottie Thompson and LA Tenorio. With the two guards pushing the pace, Ginebra came to within two points, 90-92, with 2:47 left to play off a Thompson lay-up.
Out of a timeout, the KaTropa worked the ball inside to Smith, who was immediately smothered by a double-team. He was able to pass out of trouble to Anthony Semerad in the corner, and Semerad made the extra pass to Roger Pogoy for a wide-open three-pointer that gave TNT a 95-90 lead with 1:34 to go.
The Gin Kings last threatened with 31.8 seconds left thanks to Justin Brownlee's jump shot that made it 97-94, and thus needed only one stop to try and tie the ball game.
But Castro, who missed his first nine shots of the contest, showed no hesitation in firing up a three-pointer over the outstretched arms of Sol Mercado to ice the victory.
"Jayson is Jayson," said Racela. "He was really born for those moments."
Pogoy finished with 17 points, scoring the first 4 points of the contest that proved vital in TNT's wire-to-wire win. Ranidel de Ocampo added 12 points, five boards, three assists, and two steals.
Brownlee had 24 points and 14 rebounds for the Gin Kings, while Japeth Aguilar and Tenorio each had 15 points. Kevin Ferrer and Joe Devance contributed 10 points apiece in a losing effort for Ginebra.
The KaTropa led by double-digits in the first half thanks to the hulking Smith, who used his threat inside to fire sharp passes to TNT's shooters. His assist to Kris Rosales' triple made it 36-24 with 4:17 left, and after a Brownlee bucket, RR Garcia expertly ran a pick-and-roll play with Smith that led to an open lay-up for a 38-26 advantage.
The lead would balloon to 13, 45-32, after Smith easily scored inside. However, he also inadvertently sparked Ginebra's flurry to end the second quarter as he was assessed a technical for delay of game. LA Tenorio's ensuing technical free throw started a 5-0 run, capped by a circus lay-up by Brownlee, and Ginebra headed into the break down 37-45.
The Gin Kings would rally repeatedly in the second half, even cutting the deficit two just two points in crunch time. However, they simply could not get over the hump with Smith and then Castro hitting the crucial shots to hold them at bay.
TNT had a slim rebounding advantage, 49-43, but 21 of their boards came on the offensive end, which led to 25 second chance points. With Smith coming off the bench, TNT's reserves registered 67 points, but their Ginebra counterparts mustered only 23 of their own.
Game 2 of the best-of-five series is on Tuesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
TNT 100 - Smith 35, Pogoy 17, De Ocampo 12, Garcia 8, Rosario 6, Semerad 6, Williams 5, Castro 4, Rosales 4, Reyes 2, Carey 0.
GINEBRA 94 - Brownlee 24, Tenorio 15, Aguilar 15, Devance 10, Ferrer 10, Mercado 7, Thompson 7, Marcelo 4, Ellis 2, Caguioa 0.
Quarterscores: 23-13, 45-37, 73-66, 100-94.
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