Since he took over as TNT’s new coach in the off-season, Nash Racela tried to mix and match the veteran KaTropa with their young players.
But on Thursday night, Racela rekindled TNT’s old, yet proven formula as its battle-tested unit, led by top guns Jayson Castro and Ranidel De Ocampo, inflicted heavy damage on defending two-time champion San Miguel Beer for a 101-94 victory and a 3-2 lead in their 2017 PBA Philippine Cup semifinal series at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
After seeing a nine-point lead trimmed to just 83-82 midway in the final frame, the KaTropa refused to wilt under duress as Castro and De Ocampo teamed up with fellow veterans Kelly Williams, Larry Fonacier and Ryan Reyes in their steady finish that left the Beermen stunned no end.
That crew served as the core of TNT’s three-peat drive in the all-Filipino tourney during from 2011 to 2013, and it remains efficient as ever—much to the delight of Racela.
“Our model is the (San Antonio) Spurs,” stressed Racela. “If you review the lineups in the PBA, we have the most number of veterans.”
Even De Ocampo, who finished with 18 points on top of four rebounds, an assist and a steal, admitted he was quite surprised when Racela fielded familiar faces all together down the stretch, something that they have barely done so far in the season-opening conference.
“Actually hindi nga napa-practice simula pa nung eliminations na magkakasama kami sa loob ng court mga beterano. Lagi kaming may mix na mas bata. Siguro kahit papaano, nanumbalik yung dati, nagamay namin yung bawat isang mga beterano,” said De Ocampo.
However, the former St. Francis of Assisi College standout also deflected the credit to the other KaTropa big men who took turns in slowing down SMB’s prized center June Mar Fajardo who could only attempt eight times despite finishing with a double-double of 13 markers and 15 rebounds.
“Siyempre bibigyan ko rin ng credit sila Kelly Williams, si (Moala) Tautuaa, Frank Golla, Danny Seigle, Harvey Carey sa pag-depensa sa malaki ng kalaban, si June Mar. Tyina-tiyaga nila, nagtatrabaho sila ng mabuti,” said De Ocampo.
“Masarap sa pakiramdam na nanalo kami ngayon tapos isang panalo na lang, makakapasok na kami sa finals. Hindi biro ‘yung trabahong ginagawa namin na manalo sa San Miguel. Sobrang hirap nila talunin. Sila talaga ‘yung pinakamalakas na team. Siguro may halo ring swerte dahil sa sipag.”
Game 6 is set on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena and De Ocampo is expecting to come out with nothing less than a “complete and perfect game” to dethrone San Miguel Beer.
“Ito yung siguradong pinakamahirap na tapusin na series, kasi sila ‘yung defending champion, sila ‘yung pinakamalakas na team. Kailangan namin ng kumpleto at perpekto na game, ‘yung halos wala talaga kaming mali para masara namin ‘yung series,” he said.
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