By JONAS TERRADO
TNT coach Chot Reyes and his Tropang Giga will try to complete a hat trick of playoff victories against teams from San Miguel Corporation when they take on Magnolia Pambansang Manok for the PBA Philippine Cup crown.
The Tropang Giga earned their way to the ultimate stage of the season-opening conference after beating the San Miguel Beermen, 97-79, in the deciding seventh game of their semifinal series Sunday, Oct. 17 at the Don Honorio Ventura State University in Bacolor, Pampanga.
TNT’s triumph came after a relatively-easy time dethroning Barangay Ginebra San Miguel in the quarterfinals after the latter desperately fought hard to avoid an early exit from the season’s most important tournament.
Now TNT will head to its second straight Philippine Cup Finals opposite Magnolia, which eliminated Meralco in the other semifinal series.
A victory over the Hotshots will allow Tropang Giga owner Manny V. Pangilinan, who also has two other PBA clubs in the Bolts and the NLEX Road Warriors, to gain some bragging rights over his corporate rival.
“Well, ganun naman talaga e,” Reyes said. “Any road to the title, you have to go through those three tough teams. Nagkataon lang — nobody would have ever expected Ginebra to be No. 8 in the eliminations, right? So, nagkataon lang na ganun.
“But we knew we had to get by the three if we are to get to the championship. But the fact that it is happening, that was really the luck of the draw or the situation.”
Reyes guided the Tropang Giga to the league’s best record and the top seed going to the playoffs, which led to the rare scenario.
After finishing off Ginebra, TNT took on San Miguel, which placed fourth in the elims and swept No. 5 NorthPort in the best-of-three quarters.
Despite dictating the tempo for most of the series, the Tropang Giga had to be pushed to the limit in order to hold off the talented Beermen side.
Game 7 saw TNT rally from a 23-15 first quarter behind the efforts of RR Pogoy, rookie Mikey Williams, veterans Kelly Williams, Jayson Castro and Ryan Reyes, Troy Rosario and Poy Erram to arrange a showdown with Magnolia.
“I don’t think you can recall another time in the past where San Miguel was No. 4 and Ginebra was No. 8 in the eliminations,” said Reyes. “It’s very difficult. Hopefully, that experience makes us better and makes us better prepared for this last series.”
TNT beat Magnolia in the lone elimination round meeting, 83-76, last Sept. 5, but things will likely be different with the Hotshots oozing with confidence following the semis.
If it ends up beating Magnolia and wins the franchise’s first title since the 2015 Commissioner’s Cup, TNT will repeat the same journey that happened two decades ago when a young franchise pulled off the trifecta against SMC.
The defunct Batang Red Bull Thunder captured the first of their three PBA championships during the 2001 Commissioner’s Cup under fiery mentor Yeng Guiao, whose club became an expansion ballclub the previous year.
Red Bull placed third in the elims and had to go through Ginebra in the quarterfinals, Purefoods in the semis and the mighty San Miguel Beermen in order to lift its first trophy.
Former Duke and NBA player Tony Lang, Davonn Harp, Kerby Raymundo, Lordy Tugade, Jimwell Torion, Junthy Valenzuela, Willie Miller and company made short work of sixth seed Ginebra, which came off a Cinderella finals appearance in the All-Filipino anchored by rookie Mark Caguioa.
In the semis, Red Bull needed to hurdle a tough Purefoods squad, which weeks earlier was allowed by the league to keep its PBA participation following Ayala’s sale of the food company to SMC, in five full games to enter the finals.
Red Bull would end SMB’s run of three straight championships led by Danny Ildefonso, Danny Seigle and Olsen Racela, winning a hard-fought series that lasted six games.
Like Guiao’s first Red Bull championship team, Reyes will need to get more out of his team in order to do the same.