Nash Racela knows he’s no Gregg Popovich, but that can’t stop him trying out tried and tested formula of the San Antonio Spurs on his TNT KaTropa.
“Our model is the Spurs. You review the lineups in the PBA and we have the most number of (veterans),” he said.
And in the all-important Game 5 of their best-of-7 semifinals series against San Miguel on Thursday, the first-year coach counted on his old reliables to pull off the 101-94 coup.
Kelly Williams, Jayson Castro, and Ranidel de Ocampo all wound up with 18 points as they steered the KaTropa to a 3-2 series lead, a win away from booking a spot in the 2017 PBA Philippine Cup Finals.
Williams, the 2008 PBA Most Valuable Player, shone the brightest among the veterans. Taking advantage of the Beermen’s missed rotation, he drilled eight of TNT’s last 12 points, which were all pivotal in putting away the two-time defending champions.
“I’m proud of my guys for playing the way they did and responding to the other team. They’re incredibly tough team. We came here and we did what we had to do and get the win,” he said. “It took the whole team to be able to limit (Fajardo) today. It was again a total team effort for us.”
Ryan Reyes and Larry Fonacier also helped in closing the deal for the KaTropa while Roger Pogoy provided some defensive relief from the youth.
But it was the veterans who took the bulk of the responsibility especially when the team needed them the most.
Castro kickstarted the final 10-3 killer salvo to turn a close 83-82 lead with six minutes to go to a decisive 93-85 advantage with 2:07 to play.
“That’s what coach told us, that we need to step up,” Castro said in Filipino.
De Ocampo said that fielding an all-veteran TNT five wasn’t planned in practice but just came about as need arose.
“Us veterans haven’t been practicing together since the eliminations. We always had a mix with the younger guys,” he said.
These five have been in this position before when, making up the core of Chot Reyes-coached squad which won three Philippine Cup titles back in 2011 to 2013.
“Maybe in some way, we got our old groove back. We knew each other’s game because we’re all veterans,” said de Ocampo.
But given the wealth of experience TNT’s old dogs have, they know that closing out a series still won’t be easy especially against a powerhouse team like San Miguel.
“I’m sure this will be the toughest series to wrap up because they’re the defending champion and the strongest team,” said de Ocampo. “We need to be complete and perfect with our game, to the point that we won’t make any mistakes to close the series out.”
“It’s going to be the same as it’s been the whole series. I think it’s going to be rough and it’s going to be tough. Obviously, June Mar is the three-time MVP and it’s hard to stop him, so I’ll do the best I can. I know coach is going to do the best he can to drop the right schemes defensively. I know the guys got my back in that, too. So we’re looking forward to it,” Williams added.
TNT can close the series out in Game 6 on Saturday at Mall of Asia Arena.