The dream matchup of the PBA Philippine Cup semifinals became a reality Tuesday night, thanks in no small part to sleepwalking Barangay Ginebra San Miguel.
Talk ‘N Text set up a titanic clash with San Miguel Beer after ousting the Kings in their do-or-die match, 83-67, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, turning an expected down-the-wire duel into a scrimmage in the fourth quarter.
TNT coach Jong Uichico, usually speechless from pressure after an intense game, was surprisingly bubbly at the post-game interview.
Uichico, who took over from Norman Black during the off-season, now has a shot at putting away another former team, with Game 1 of their best-of-7 series against the Beermen on Friday, 7 p.m., at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The mild-mannered Uichico handled SMB for six years from 1999 and won six championships before moving to Ginebra where he captured two more titles. He accepted an offer to help out with the Gilas Pilipinas team and eventually became an assistant coach at Meralco in 2012.
“It’s just a game we needed to win,” said Uichico when asked whether he found it difficult to send off his former team. “Regardless who we faced, we needed to win to get to the semis.”
While a spot in the semis may be something the Texters craved, the win was equally important to erase an embarrassing loss during the inaugurals where Ginebra blew them away, 101-81, before a mind-blowing mass of 52,000 people at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan.
Uichico refused to take anything away from Ginebra’s triumph that evening though, brushing aside suggestions the loss may have been a stroke of luck for the Kings.
“No it wasn’t a fluke,” he said. “It was more of nangangapa pa kami ng mga players sa isa’t isa since it was our first game. But we got to know each other as the conference wore on.”
TNT was without Gilas Pilipinas mainstays Jimmy Alapag and Ranidel de Ocampo that game. But the two were around to cause damage this time.
Alapag had 7 points in 8 minutes while De Ocampo backed up Jayson Castro’s 23 points with 17 and 5 rebounds while working around deftly past the Kings’ big men.
“We weren’t thinking about that loss,” Uichico said. “Our minds were at getting a shot reaching the Finals.”
SMB will be a tougher opponent, according to Uichico, who pointed to the Beermen’s long rest after the eliminations.
“That’s to their advantage,” he said, adding that whatever rustiness the Beermen may have “will not be there after the first game.”
From 52-all, in the third quarter, TNT raced to an 83-67 advantage against a poorly-organized opponent that committed 15 turnovers and was scoreless in the final four minutes of the most important game of its season so far.
Both teams threw bricks in the first half which ended tied 40-all after TNT missed 13 of 14 treys and Ginebra clanged 12 of 14 from beyond the arc.
De Ocampo was 1 of 5 for the Texters, Jay Washington 0 of 3, and Castro and Larry Fonacier 0 of 4 combined. Mac Baracael was 0 of 5 for the Kings and Mark Caguioa 0 for 2.
Jumping on Ginebra’s 7-of-24 shooting (29 percent) in the second quarter, TNT took a 30-22 lead after scoring the period’s first 5 points. But Caguioa had six points in a 9-2 run as the Kings rallied to wrest the lead, 35-34, bringing everything back to square one.
The first 24 minutes produced no significant play except for one in the closing seconds of the opening period when Ginebra backup guard Chris Monfort beat the buzzer with a 3 over Alapag to cut a TNT lead to 25-22.
Greg Slaughter took just one shot for Ginebra in the first half and Japeth Aguilar two, with the Kings’ Triple Tower cut down and held scoreless.
Meanwhile, the Final Four clash between Rain or Shine and Alaska gets underway at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The scent of revenge will hang heavy in the air as the Aces look to get back at the Elasto Painters after getting ousted in five games during the 2013 Governors’ Cup semifinals last June.
Game 4 of that series is best remembered for a semis-ending knee injury Alaska point guard Jayvee Casio suffered with seconds remaining in overtime that allowed Rain or Shine to dodge the bullet and forge a deciding fifth game.
With Casio on the bench, Rain or Shine went on to win Game 5 and advance to the Finals against eventual Grand Slam champion San Mig Super Coffee. (WJRHT)
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