FTS Spotlight: Three Takeaways from SMB-TNT Finals: Game 1

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first article coming from FTS SPOTLIGHT: our simple way of giving back to the game we all love. From time to time, we will be publishing articles from different people related to sports. Whether it’s aspiring writers, photographers, athletes, analytics or everything in between, we’ll give everyone an opportunity to get their voice out there! So watch this space for some nice and unique pieces from all walks of life!

Our first piece is from Aljo Dolores, who wrote about the riveting finish of Game 1 between TNT KaTropa and San Miguel Beermen. Aljo reached out to me on Twitter, and took it upon himself to give his thoughts on Game 1. I thought he did a great job providing insight and context about the game. -Chuck

Enjoy! And if you liked it, follow him on Twitter @AljoDolores.

Special thanks also to Winston Baltasar, who provided the photos for this piece. You can follow him on twitter (@foto_geek) and Facebook  to see all his fantastic sports photos!

Three Takeaways from SMB-TNT Finals: Game 1

Written by Aljo Dolores

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(Photo by Winston Baltasar, Sports 5)

 

It went down as an instant classic.

Game 1 of the 2017 PBA Commissioner’s Cup was a thriller, with the game undecided until the final buzzer. The flagship teams of SMC and MVP groups fought tooth and nail in their quest to be at the top of the league once more. In the end, heart prevailed over numbers as a hobbled Joshua Smith scored the biggest shot of the game to draw first blood in this series.

Here are three takeaways from the 104-102 win of TNT KaTropa over San Miguel Beermen:

A Tale of Three Imports

The two imports might be out of contention for Best Import award, but the pressure is on them to deliver in the Finals.

And in the biggest stage in Philippine basketball, Joshua Smith played through adversities and led his team to Game 1 victory.

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(Photo by Winston Baltasar, Sports 5)

In spite of his injury, the TNT import had given an all-out, gutsy performance out of the minutes he played. Who can stop this guy? He may not be at 100% for this series, but Smith­­­all 300 pounds of himis an immovable force on both ends once he’s on the floor for TNT KaTropa.

Offensively, there were stretches where he devoured most, if not all, of the single coverage that was sent against him. Not even Rhodes or June Mar could stop The Behemoth in Blue.

He was no slacker on defense either. His presence alone was a big boost to TNT since he was big enough to occupy a large portion of the paint. Yet, in spite of his huge frame, ‘Jumbotron’ proved that he is a good post defender with quick hands. This was evident in Game 1 as he swiped the ball off SMB’s big men quite a few times.

Perhaps, Smith’s gutsy performance could be summarized in the dying seconds of the game. When the play designed for Castro was broken, the TNT import took matters into his own hands. Against all the pain and the SMB defense, he willed his way inside the paint and scored the game-winning basket for the KaTropa.

Talk about playing with ‘PUSO’.

On the other hand, Charles Rhodes struggled to contribute consistently for the whole game.

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(Photo by Winston Baltasar, Sports5)

He unloaded his flamethrower right off the bat, with 21 points in the first quarter. But since then, he had a rough game offensively, as he went scoreless in the second and third quarters. A 10-point surge from him in the fourth was not enough to propel the Beermen to a win.

Foul trouble did not help the SMB import’s case either. He amassed a total of four fouls midway through the third; five early in the fourth. With this, Coach Leo was forced to go all-Filipino through some uncomfortably long stretches in the game.

San Miguel may have the best all-Filipino lineup in the league, but they will need Rhodes to be on the floor and contribute consistently if they want to beat TNT in this series.

The question now is whether Smith could finish the finals or not. His heart is unquestionable, but his health is still a suspect. Even though he has fought throughout Game 1, his injury is obviously affecting his play and mobility. Should TNT decide to change import in the succeeding games, expect standby import Mike Myers to be an unknown variable for SMB and cause chaos in Coach Leo’s game plan, at least for the first few games.

But for now, let us bask in the glory and greatness of Joshua Smith.

Game of the Guards

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(Photo by Winston Baltasar, Sports5)

The guards are expected to have a great influence in the outcome of the series, and rightfully so. SMB’s Alex Cabagnot and Chris Ross are leading the BPC race, with 34.125 statistical points apiece. Before the start of the finals, Cabagnot was averaging 15.13 points, 6.56 rebounds, and 5.06 assists per game, while Ross normed  league-highs 8.06 assists and 2.94 steals per game, along with 13.19 points and 5.19 rebounds for a San Miguel team that is hoping to keep its Grand Slam bid alive. Meanwhile, Jayson Castro averaged 16.80 points, 3.87 rebounds, and 6.40 assists per game to secure the fifth spot on the BPC race (32.467 SPs).

The anticipated duel between the guards did not disappoint, at least in Game 1.

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(Photo by Winston Baltasar, Sports5)

Stats-wise, the SMB guards fared slightly better than the TNT duo of Castro and Garcia. Ross had an all-around performance with a near-triple double (11 points, seven rebounds, 12 assists) in 43 minutes on the floor. Cabagnot scored 16 points to go along with nine rebounds. They made key plays down the stretch, proving once more why they are the frontrunners of the BPC race.

However, Jayson Castro and RR Garcia seemed to inflict damage at the critical junctures not just in the fourth quarter, but throughout the game.

Castro had once again shown why he is the best point guard in Asia. There were instances when he seemed to control the flow of the game for TNT, knowing when to score and when to let his teammates finish the play. He finished one rebound shy of a triple-double with 14 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists, including a clutch three to put TNT ahead late in the game.

Garcia did not back down either. He notched 13 points across his name in the first game of what could be his statement series against the team that traded him away a few weeks back.

We could only expect the showdown of the guards to heat up as the series progresses.

RR Pogoy is the next big thing for TNT

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(Photo by Winston Baltasar, Sports5)

The biggest takeaway from Game 1 came from one of the youngest stars from TNT.

Rookies setting personal records in elimination round games are normal. But for a rookie to score a career-high to lead his team in points in his FIRST finals appearance? It’s a different animal.

That’s what RR Pogoy did. In a game where TNT was missing the services of Ranidel de Ocampo and Ryan Reyes, the prized rookie stepped up big time. He finished the game with 27 points on five triples, five rebounds and three steals.

It’s not like Pogoy miraculously found his zone out of nowhere. He wanted this game for himself. He was visibly confident as soon as the ball started rolling. He missed his first few shots, but he kept firing with confidence as if he had unlimited ammo. His perseverance eventually paid off, as he went on a 13-point explosion in the fourth to help his team stay ahead of SMB.

No wonder Coach Nash wanted his King Tamaraw back in his fold. If Pogoy can sustain this level of confidence and performance throughout this series, it will not be a surprise if he leads TNT back to the top of the leaguein this conference and beyond.

Brace yourselves. RR Pogoy is ready to take over TNT Nation.

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