SMART Clark Giga City. - It will take more than an upstart to deny an experienced team like TNT.
The Tropang Giga stressed this by grinding out a 91-81 victory over the Fuel Masters Friday to close out their semifinals duel and advance to the PBA Philippine Cup finals at the Smart 5G-powered AUF Gym in Angeles City.
Ray-Ray Parks once again shone the brightest with 25 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, with 15 of his points coming in the fourth quarter that was mainly responsible for keeping Phoenix at bay and powering TNT's charge to a second straight win in the series.
After wrapping up the best-of-five duel at three games to two, the Tropang Giga now face the winner of the other semis pairing pitting Barangay Ginebra against Meralco in the best-of-seven championship starting Sunday.
"It's good to be back in the finals. I must commend the players... all of them. They really stepped up," said TNT coach Bong Ravena, adding the wringer of a series his team just went through should help it end a seven-year championship drought in the tournament formerly known as the All-Filipino.
"Hats off to Phoenix," stated Ravena. "They really made us, you know, better every game that we played.
Kung gusto mong gumaling kailangan magaling din 'yung kalaban mo. It (series) helped us a lot. Salute to them."
It seems the pressure did get to Phoenix, a first-time semifinalist trying to crash the Big Dance since taking over the old Barako Bull franchise midway in the 2016 season.
Calvin Abueva finished with 23 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and three blocks, but the usual help from the Fuel Masters' other main men did not come.
Matthew Wright scored 13 points but only a 5-of-16 field shooting, Jason Perkins had his own double-double of 11 points and as many rebounds but did have four turnovers, while RJ Jazul chipped in only eight points.
As a team, Phoenix made only 28 of 77 field goal attempts, including 8-of-41 from beyond the arc, and also committed 18 turnovers.
In contrast, four other TNT players finished with at least 11 points, including Roger Pogoy, whose five-point cluster gave the Tropa a 75-58 spread that acted as cushion in yet another Phoenix fightback that fell way short than in a 101-102 loss in Game 4. (NC)
TNT 91 - Parks 26, Enciso 12, Washington 11, Pogoy 11, Castro 11, Erram 9, Carey 4, Montalbo 3, Rosario 4, Reyes 0.
PHOENIX 81 - Abueva 23, Wright 13, Perkins 11, Chua 9, Jazul 8, Heruela 7, Rios 6, Mallari 4, Garcia 0.
Quarters: 25-20; 40-34; 62-53; 91-81.