TNT overcame a gritty stand by Columbian to come out a 101-98 victor Friday at the Ynares Center in Antipolo, not only stretching the KaTropa's winning streak to five but also keeping alive their hopes of clinching the No. 2 spot in the PBA Philippine Cup eliminations.
That sense of urgency is heightened by the fact Barangay Ginebra, which faces NLEX Saturday in Angeles City, could ultimately tie TNT at second. In that scenario, the Gin Kings would take No. 2 due to their opening day win over the KaTropa.
Jayson Castro finished with 20 points and seven assists while four other teammates scored in double figures in a fine show of a balanced attack that went well with TNT's usual harassing defense.
Still, it took a couple of three-point misses by Rashawn McCarthy in the dying seconds before the KaTropa could improve their overall record to 7-3 and solidify their hold on third spot, half-a-game behind Rain or Shine.
Another win by TNT against NorthPort on Sunday and the KaTropa would bump off the Elasto Painters from the coveted spot and its accompanying win-once advantage over the No. 7 squad in the eight-team quarterfinals.
"Very important game," said KaTropa coach Bong Ravena. "Still a must-win game for us every game and hopefully, last game we'll come out strong. We have to win our last game."
Ravena insists his team must take care of its own end of the bargain first before letting the chips fall where they may.
"We'll see dahil hindi namin control 'yung mangyayari," said Ravena. "Importante manalo kami. Whatever happens... basta concern namin last game."
The loss gave Columbian a 4-7 slate and ninth place at the end of its eliminations stint, its fate of getting to the next round now depending on whether some of those teams immediately above it, NLEX, Magnolia ng Pambansang Manok and Alaska, do not get past four wins.
A one-game playoff would then decide which advances.
Columbian's future may be in doubt, but it sure made the heavliy favored TNT side go through the wringer.
CJ Perez scored a gamehigh 22 points on top of nine rebounds and five assists, McCarthy finished with 17 points despite struggling early, while Eric Camson, Jackson Corpuz, JP Calvo and Glenn Khobuntin had at least 11 points each.
All of the Dyip's chief players took part in one run after another, enabling them to recover after falling behind by 14 points early and almost razing an even bigger 18-point deficit in the third period.
Columbian's most telling surge came inside the last three minutes as Calvo's free throws followed by McCarthy's triple brought it within three, still 44 seconds left.
The Dyip's chances of tying was there when Castro missed a wide-open three-point try, but McCarthy misfired on the game's last two offensive thrusts.
Raena admitted the tight finish is one source of concern going to the NorthPort game. "Hindi kami pwedeng mag-relax like kanina nakahabol kalaban," he said...
"Buti na lang medyo me konting cushion kami.. I hope it won't happen again." (NC)