TNT gains crack at title repeat

Olmin Leyba - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — Jayson Castro stood at the forefront as titleholder TNT outdueled Magnolia in a blood-and-guts Game 6, 87-74, to book a return ticket to the PBA Philippine Cup finals last night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Castro delivered 26 big points punctuated by a booming triple that gave the Tropang Giga an 80-72 cushion en route to a 4-2 semifinal verdict and a third straight trip to the championship.

In strong complementary roles, RR Pogoy and Glenn Khobuntin shot 14 apiece, joining Castro in the mop-up with clutch plays that extinguished the threat from Magnolia, which went to within four with still 3:48 left.

TNT now awaits its challenger to the PBA crown jewel with San Miguel Beer and Meralco entangled in a deadlock through six games in their other semis duel.

“We’re happy to be in the finals but whoever goes through in that series, it’s going to be a tough one,” said Tropang Giga coach Chot Reyes, whose troops finished off Magnolia in the highly physical, intense match with an 11-2 finishing kick.

Mikey Williams shot 15 in the closeout.

Earilier, Aaron Black sparked a late power surge as Meralco zapped San Miguel Beer, 96-92, to bring its clincher-seeking rival to a rubbermatch.

Just as SMB was threatening to run away to a 4-2 series victory, Black asserted control and fired 11 in a fortune-shifting 16-2 windup that cleared the way for Meralco’s gritty fightback from 10 points down and into a 3-3 stalemate.

Having survived this do-or-die, the Bolts now got into position to complete the mighty upset of SMB and claim a maiden trip to the All-Filipino championship in Wednesday’s deciding Game 7.

“When San Miguel went up by 90-80, that was around the time Aaron told me he wanted me to put in some pick-and-rolls and he wanted to attack. That’s what brought us back in the game,” said Aaron’s proud father, Meralco coach Norman Black.

“Aaron felt he could take his man off the dribble to get to the basket so we made this adjustment, and it worked. Slowly, gradually, we got back into the game because of that,” he added.

Chris Newsome and Cliff Hodge actually touched things off with a basket and a three-point play, respectively, before the young Black went on a rampage.

The 25-year-old Black knocked down a big-time triple, converted two charities and followed it up with an And-1 play to put Meralco on the driver’s seat, 93-90, with 31.5 seconds left.

“It wasn’t only me. It was the guys screening for me like Raymond (Almazan) and Cliff. Sila ang nag-screen kaya ako na-open. At the same naka-stop kami on defense. We always do things as a team. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to do that for our team,” Black said.


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