Wins weren’t hard to come by for the TNT Tropang Giga, as they finished the preliminary round of the 2022 Honda PBA Philippine Cup with eight wins in 11 games; what stood out more was that they won when they needed to the most.
Three PBA teams finished with an 8-3 win-loss record, but it was the Tropang Giga that were named the second seed. TNT’s opponents the Magnolia Chicken Timplados Hotshots, may have also finished at 8-3 in the elimination round, but the gap between both teams seemed to widen as the series has pushed on.
That gulf was never more evident than in Game 4, where the Tropang Giga blew out the Hotshots, moving to within a win of reaching the PBA Philippine Cup finals for the third straight year. TNT did a little bit of everything in their 102-84 win combining hot shooting, great ball movement, and solid rebounding to outclass Magnolia. Six players scored at least nine points for the Tropang Giga, who counted on a balanced offensive effort rather than on individual scoring explosions.
Among other things, the Hotshots have yet to score 100 points or more in the semifinals, and the defense of TNT has played a part in that. Of course, Paul Lee’s well-documented struggles have contributed to Magnolia’s floundering offense and this development has made it easier for the Tropang Giga to defend the rest of the Hotshots. Spacing has been tighter and shooting has been sparse as only three Magnolia players (Lee, Mark Barroca, and Aris Dionisio) made 3-pointers compared to the seven for TNT. RR Pogoy and Mikey Williams alone made more 3-pointers combined than the entire Hotshots squad, with each finishing with four 3-pointers. Williams himself was virtually unconscious, as the reigning Finals MVP for the Philippine Cup made shots from pretty much anywhere in halfcourt.
If the frontcourt isn’t having their best game, the likes of Troy Rosario and Poy Erram can take things inside while also stretching the defense with their respective perimeter skill sets. In Game 4, Rosario’s three 3-pointers helped keep the Tropang Giga in step with Magnolia and it also forced the Hotshots defense to change the way they guarded him, eventually opening up looks for the former NU Bulldog inside. Meanwhile Erram led all scorers with 19 points and 13 rebounds.
And then there’s Jayson Castro, who may have taken on a more subdued role over the last two seasons, yet as he has done so numerous times in the past, the five-time PBA Best Player of the Conference will always be there to save the day for TNT.
Compared to his body of work so far with the Philippine Men’s National Basketball Team in 2022, Tropang Giga head coach Chot Reyes has been able to do what he was supposed to do with the collection of talent at his disposal: win games. Having the same players for quite some time certainly helps, but when you have a talent like Mikey Williams, you HAVE to win. Another championship will certainly validate himself and temporarily silence the haters Reyes has mentioned in his media interviews, but he has to keep winning convincingly to get them off his back.
Injuries may likely be TNT’s toughest foe, as Kib Montalbo had an injury scare as he landed awkwardly on his knee. Prior to that, health had pretty much been on the Tropang Giga’s side, as compared to last season, the likes of Rosario, Erram, and Kelly Williams have relatively clean bills of health in the 2022 edition of the All-Filipino conference.
Five is the magic number of wins the TNT Tropang Giga need to clinch back-to-back Philippine Cup titles, but the first one will be the most crucial since it gets them to the championship round. The Magnolia Chicken Timplados definitely won’t go down without a fight, so the Tropang Giga should not take their foots off the pedal in Games 5 and beyond since it seems they have their winning formula for this conference.