Meralco, TNT open semis series
For quite a while now, Meralco has long been on the fringes of success.
Bolts coach Norman Black believes the time is ripe for his Meralco crew to gain inclusion among the PBA’s elite, notwithstanding the awe-inspiring task of taking on the Governors Cup’s best team, led by arguably the conference’s top player.
“We look at this as an opportunity to take the next step for the Meralco basketball program so we will be ready,” said Black on the eve of his Bolts’ collision with the TNT Ka Tropa Tuesday as they start their semifinals duel at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The matchup is the second best-of-five series in as many conferences Meralco is in and Black said overcoming TNT would stamp the Bolts’ growing reputation as a legitimate title contender.
“Playing the number one team at the end of the elims will be a big challenge for us,” stressed Black.
The Texters finished the 11-game eliminations with a near-perfect 10-1 slate and solidified their top ranking by needing just one game to dispose off eighth-seed Phoenix 136-124 in the quarterfinals.
Meralco landed just fourth in the elims but also did not let its twice-to-beat advantage go to waste with a 105-82 beatdown of fifth-seed Mahindra.
Despite the rungs separating the combatants Texters coach Jong Uichico is not one to take the Bolts lightly, however, noting how his team has this tendency to just outgun its opponent, as the game against the Fuel Masters showed.
“We have to defend a lot better than we did against Phoenix if we want to have a chance of winning,” said Uichico.
It is also on how his charges make stops that gnaws at Black, considering TNT is sure to be led on offense by a red-hot Jayson Castro.
“Our ability to defend them will be key because that’s what it takes to win in the playoffs,” said Black.
“Our focus will be on how to stop Jayson Castro while also defending their three-point shooters,” added Black while noting the team-best 23.17 points and 7.5 assists Castro usually dishes out an outing.
The man nicknamed “The Blur,” who also leads the Best Player of the Conference race, showcased his offensive skills the most with 42 points in the game against Phoenix and is sure to have at least some momentum left.
It is not just a Castro show for TNT, however, as the likes of Mychal Ammons, Ranidel de Ocampo, Asian import Michael Madanly, Troy Rosario and Larry Fonacier have done their part for Uichico.
For its part, Meralco has Allen Durham to lead its offense, but would have to draw support from the likes of Cliff Hodge, Chris Newsome, Jimmy Alapag and Jared Dillinger for them realize a first-ever finals appearance for the franchise.
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