MANILA, Philippines -- Even without a long lead-up to the Finals, TNT Tropang Giga is ready for their best-of-seven showdown against Barangay Ginebra -- thanks to the difficult series they had against the Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters.
The best-of-five semifinals series between TNT and Phoenix Super LPG went the full route, with the Tropang Giga prevailing 91-81 in Game 5 last Friday to snatch the ticket to the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup Finals.
In doing so, they overcame a 1-2 series deficit and survived a gritty Phoenix Super LPG squad that became one of the surprise packages of the conference inside the league's bubble in Clark, Pampanga.
"Hats off to Phoenix," TNT coach Bong Ravena said after their hard-earned win, which saw Ray Parks put up 26 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists in another superb outing.
"They really made us better every game that we played," the coach added. "Kung gusto mong gumaling, kailangan magaling din 'yung kalaban mo, so it really helped us a lot."
"Salute to them."
TNT got a big series from Parks, but they still struggled to put away Phoenix Super LPG thanks to the inspired play of Calvin Abueva. Even an ankle injury suffered by their top gunner, Matthew Wright, did not deter the Fuel Masters.
Phoenix Super LPG out TNT on the brink of elimination with a 92-89 win in Game 3 wherein the Tropang Giga had no answer for Abueva, while Wright showed no ill effects from his ankle sprain in dropping a team-high 25 points including the dagger jump shot.
Parks, however, refused to let TNT leave the bubble early. He took charge down the stretch of Game 4, scoring 36 points in a 102-101 win, then set the tone in the do-or-die game as the Tropang Giga ended Phoenix Super LPG's campaign.
"I must commend the players, especially Ray, all the veterans, all of them. They really stepped up," said Ravena.
With just a day to rest and prepare, TNT now moves on to an interesting clash against Ginebra in the Finals. The Gin Kings also needed five games to oust Meralco before punching their ticket to the championship round.
Ginebra will be a completely different opponent from Phoenix Super LPG, but the lessons that TNT got from their semis series will serve them well against the Gin Kings.
"Dahil nga sa Phoenix, siguro blessing in disguise din na talagang natapat kami sa kanila dahil ang laking tulong nila. Napagaling nila kami," said Ravena. "Pagdating sa Finals, ready kami, kasi hirap na hirap kami sa Phoenix eh. So that made us better."
As for Phoenix Super LPG, Ravena won't be surprised if they go even further in the next conference.
As impressive as the Fuel Masters were, their head coach, Topex Robinson, firmly believes they overachieved in reaching the semifinals.
Their preparation for the All-Filipino Cup was less than ideal, even by the standards of the bubble. Robinson had taken over the squad just a month before they entered Clark, and had to integrate Abueva into the squad midway through the conference after his ban was lifted.
"Sabi ko noon pa, this team is not a pushover team anymore," Ravena said of Phoenix Super LPG. "They're well-organized, kumpleto na sila eh. Kahit sino, hindi mo pwedeng iwan.Anybody can shoot. Maganda 'yung sistema. So, you better watch them the next season."