There is a saying that a stonecutter can hammer away at a rock a hundred times, and by the time the hundred and first blow comes and splits the rock, it was not just the last one but the cumulative effects of all the strikes that came before it.
Such was the case for the TNT Tropang Giga, who outlasted the San Miguel Beermen in seven games in order to advance to finals of the 2021 Honda PBA Philippine Cup. With the win, they will face the Magnolia Hotshots in a best-of-seven finals.
RR Pogoy’s 27 points played a big part in the 97-79 win, but Kelly Willams was instrumental in holding down the fort in the first half as he finished with a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds in just two quarters. Mikey Williams paired up with Kelly to ensure that their two-man game would make it tough for the Beermen on the defensive side of the ball.
On paper, the Hotshots offer a less potent lineup than San Miguel, but their physical play could level the playing field with the Tropang Giga.
From their elimination round matchup last September 5, TNT came out with the 83-76 victory with six players scoring at least nine points. Jayson Castro came off the bench to lead the team with 17 points, while Kelly Williams had another solid outing with 13 points, 15 rebounds, two steals, and three blocks.
Calvin Abueva led Magnolia with 23 points, six rebounds, and three assists, while Ian Sangalang had a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds despite missing nine of 14 shot attempts. Paul Lee had a tough outing as he missed eight of 11 shot attempts yet managed to finish with 13 points.
Perhaps the key takeaway from that game was that the frontcourts of both teams will play a pivotal role in this one, especially with how injuries have hounded the backcourts of both the Hotshots and the Tropang Giga. Lee continues to be bothered by his shoulder injury he suffered in the semifinal series against the Meralco Bolts, while Castro and Ryan Reyes both suffered lower body injuries in Game 7. How the two squads will manage this over the course of the series will be an interesting area to monitor moving forward.
As it is the finals, strategy and in-series adjustments will determine who gets the upper hand in this series. Castro and Ryan Reyes started in Game 7, but TNT head coach Chot Reyes will likely keep them on the bench so as to provide the spark in the second unit that would matchup with the Hotshots’ sixth man and Best Player of the Conference contender Abueva. Troy Rosario will likely return to the starting lineup but it also largely depends on where Rafi Reavis slots himself. Kelly Williams would be a better matchup with Reavis, while Rosario and JP Erram will face off with Sangalang and either Jackson Corpuz or Rome Dela Rosa.
The physical nature of this series will make foul trouble a wild card, and the semifinals have shown that Magnolia have been able to weather it better than the Tropang Giga. When their bigs went down with fouls, TNT had a hard time containing the likes of June Mar Fajardo and Mo Tautuaa. Sangalang and Abueva are not on that level offensively, but they are more than capable of drawing fouls off offensive rebounds and drives to the basket.
Apart from managing his injury, Lee will also face a bevy of defenders as Pogoy, Ryan Reyes, Kib Montalbo, Ping Exciminiano, and Glenn Khobuntin will likely take turns defending the former UE Red Warrior or getting him on switches. The three-time PBA champion will then have to run pick-and-rolls more often to get more favorable matchups.
In a grind-it-out affair with the Hotshots, the Tropang Giga will have to rely on their shooting to keep the court spaced. Rough shooting nights from TNT’s shooters will keep things close, but it will keep Tropang Giga’s drive-and-kick offense more dangerous.
Neither the TNT Tropang Giga nor the San Miguel Beermen had won back-to-back games in this series and the Tropang Giga stuck with the trend in eliminating the Beermen and advancing to the finals. It will be a close yet physical affair against the Magnolia Hotshots and how they manage injuries and potential curveballs, among other things, could make this quick series or a long and grueling one.