MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATED) TNT Tropang Giga leaned on big plays from Jayson Castro in crunch time to hack out a 95-92 victory over a suddenly hobbled Phoenix Super LPG team in Game 1 of their 2020 PBA Philippine Cup semifinal series.
Castro scored 12 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter and also had six rebounds, six assists, and two steals. Ray Parks Jr. added 17 points and seven boards, while Roger Pogoy finished with 16 points and nine rebounds to help TNT take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series.
The Fuel Masters made a gallant stand, Wednesday at the Angeles University Foundation Sports Arena in Angeles City, Pampanga, even after they lost star guard Matthew Wright to an ankle injury in the very first quarter, while Calvin Abueva was hampered with foul trouble for most of the game.
They stayed within striking distance throughout the final frame and even had their chances to seize the lead, but Castro was there every time to make the right play that kept TNT in control.
"We're glad that Jayson, really, his seniority really stepped up tonight, his leadership," TNT head coach Bong Ravena said afterward. "'Yun ang mga kailangan namin with Jayson. Execution, making good decisions."
"We're just fortunate na na-shoot niya 'yung very important baskets," he added.
The game featured nine deadlocks and 11 lead changes, with a Jason Perkins layup at the 4:29 mark of the fourth quarter knotting the count for the final time at 81. A layup by Parks and two free throws by Castro pushed TNT ahead, 85-81, but the Fuel Masters refused to fade away.
Phoenix Super LPG trimmed the deficit to one point, 87-86, thanks to an and-1 by Abueva with a minute and a half to play, only for Castro to respond with a huge triple that restored a four-point advantage for TNT, 90-86. Abueva muscled his way for a layup that made it a one-possession game with under a minute to go, 90-88, but Castro was there to rescue the Tropang Giga once again.
Off a missed three-pointer by Simon Enciso, Castro corralled the offensive board and soared for a layup over the outstretched arms of Abueva to make it 92-88 with under 30 seconds left. RJ Jazul fired back for Phoenix Super LPG, drilling a clutch three-pointer for a 92-91 count with 20 seconds to go.
TNT left the door open for the Fuel Masters when Enciso made just one of two charities, but Perkins couldn't make them pay as he also split his free throws off a Parks foul on the other end. With no choice but to foul, the Fuel Masters sent Castro to the line where he coolly made both charities to peg the final score.
Phoenix Super LPG still had a chance to tie the game, but Alex Mallari's triple at the buzzer hit the side of the rim and bounced off harmlessly as time expired.
"We knew they were not gonna give up," Ravena said of Phoenix Super LPG, who played without their leading scorer in Wright for a bulk of the game. "So we just kept ourselves in the game, especially on our defense."
"That's what won us the game," he said.
The game was a defensive slugfest between two of the highest scoring teams in the league. TNT shot just 36.1% from the field, and Phoenix Super LPG was a shade better at 36.3%.
Jazul led Phoenix Super LPG with 21 points, while Perkins finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Abueva played just 21 minutes due to foul trouble and had 13 points and nine boards.
Wright only saw action for six minutes and 42 seconds before injuring his right ankle. It was reported that he had his ankle re-taped, but the Fil-Canadian gunner was not sent back in by coach Topex Robinson.
The eventful game saw several players need treatment. Perkins missed a bulk of the first quarter with a cut on his chin, and played the rest of the way with bandages around his jaw. TNT center Poy Erram also suffered a knock late in the game and had to be helped off the floor.
Game 2 is on Friday, still at the AUF Gym.