TNT takes on Meralco at 5:45 p.m. and San Miguel Beer battles Barangay Ginebra at 3 p.m. at the start of their highly anticipated best-of-five series at the Ynares Center in Antipolo City.
TNT and Meralco were the last two teams to secure the semis seats last Wednesday after hammering out victories against respective opponents.
The top seed Tropang Giga dominated eighth seed Phoenix Fuel Masters 132-105 while the fourth-ranked Bolts needed an extra five minutes to outlast the Magnolia Hotshots 113-107.
TNT coach Jojo Lastimosa said it is imperative for his team to be patient as they try to find ways to draw first blood in the semis series against the Norman Black-mentored Meralco.
“We need to be more patient in our attack against their (Bolts) good defense and not be frustrated and continue to move the ball,” Lastimosa said.
TNT, however, will miss the services of starting slotman Kelly Williams, who will more likely be out of the series after hurting his calf in the first quarter against Phoenix.
His spot could be ably filled in by Poy Erram, who managed to see action for five minutes during garbage time last Wednesday.
“Poy came back at the right time. He will be on a minutes restriction. I’ll be watching how he moves around because he’s still around 60-65 percent healthy,” added Lastimosa, noting that the former Ateneo slotman has just recovered from a knee surgery.
Black admitted that the short turnaround after beating Magnolia will be the main challenge since the Bolts will be up against the Tropang Giga, who like to run the floor.
“Heading into the series with TNT is tough. They like to go up and down the floor,” Black said. “I think we can keep up with them, but it’s gonna be tough to keep these guys fresh for the game but that will be the goal.”
Meanwhile, second seed San Miguel Beer and third seed Ginebra begin their own semifinal skirmish minus key players from both sides.
The Beermen reached the Final Four with a 121-105 thumping of seventh seed Converge FiberXers last week, while the Gin Kings disposed of the import-less NLEX Road Warriors with relative ease 127-93.
“We’re playing well but San Miguel is playing probably the best in the league and they are playing well also,” said Ginebra coach Tim Cone, whose team will play on a handicap for the entire series in the absence of injured slot man Japeth Aguilar and veteran playmaker LA Tenorio.
Tenorio’s recent announcement that he is battling stage 3 colon cancer could be Ginebra’s rallying point as the team seeks to dedicate the series and the team’s title-retention campaign for the pro league’s “Iron Man.”
“Like us, they (Beermen) share the ball. They play defense a little differently from us, but they are super effective, and they are leading the league in defense, I believe,” added Cone, the league’s all-time winningest coach.
Interestingly, the series puts to spotlight two of the league’s most explosive and effective imports as well.
Ginebra continues to find inspiration and leadership from resident import Justin Brownlee, who since coming over in 2016, has led Ginebra to six league titles already.
At 34, Brownlee has shown no signs of slowing down as evidenced by his per-game averages of 27.3 points, 9.9 rebounds and 7.4 assists.
SMB’s import Cameron Clark is a solid player as well. He is expected to play with greater impact in the absence of injured star center June Mar Fajardo.
Clark’s numbers are also pretty solid at 29.0 points, 10.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game.
“Cam has always been great and the best part about Cam, he’s improving every game, which is good for us,” shared San Miguel head coach Jorge Gallent.
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