SMART Clark Giga City. - Jayson Castro is still better than most players, even if not at 100 percent.
Castro put TNT on his able shoulders inside the last 74 seconds with seven of the team's last eight points, carrying it to a 95-92 victory over Phoenix Super LPG Wednesday at the start of their PBA Philippine Cup semifinals duel at the Smart 5G-powered AUF Gym in Angeles City.
A nagging calf injury that is not yet fully healed did nothing to slow down Castro, whose endgame points made sure the Tropang Giga not only stayed beyond the reach of the Fuel Masters but also on their way to taking the opener of the best-of-five match-up.
Castro even capped his heroics with a pair of charities, pegging a 95-92 count that stood when Alex Mallari muffed his desperate three-point try at the final buzzer.
In the end, Castro wound up with a team-high 20 points on top of six rebounds and as many assists. He actually scored 12 of his points in the fourth period but deflected part of the credit to his teammates.
"Siguro, sa team namin," was Castro's reply to the query on where he gets his energy from.
"Kasi we play as a team talaga and ine-encourage nila ako talaga na kung ano kaya kong gawin gawin ko lang kasi nag-start ang bubble hindi (ako) masyadong healthy," added Castro. "Malaking bagay sa akin 'yung support nila talaga."
TNT coach Bong Ravena is simply glad his team was able to pull through despite blowing as much as a 12-point lead against a side that put up a gallant stand despite playing minus main man Matthew Wright since midway in the opening quarter and Calvin Abueva being plagued by foul trouble.
"Phoenix has a lot of energy. We know they're gonna come out really strong, so we decided to match their energy with our guards," said Ravena, referring to several instances in the game when he utilized four guards.
"We know they're not going to give up, they're going to stay in the game. We just stuck to our game, especially on defense," added Ravena.
Abueva did finish the game and his five straight points kept Phoenix within 88-90. But his efforts to the tune of 13 points and nine boards were not enough.
RJ Jazul tried to fill up Wright's absence by scoring a game-high 21 points while Jason Perkins added 15 points and 10 rebounds. RR Garcia chipped in 12 points. All to no avail.
Rayray Parks got it going in the second half for 17 points and so did Roger Pogoy, who had 16 markers.
Poy Erram also finished with 15 points and 14 rebounds and Ryan Reyes 11 points.
Those were almost not enough in a game where blood mixed with sweat and tears.
After Wright twisted his right ankle Perkins also trooped to the bench but only for a while after suffering a nasty cut below his chin, 4:10 to go in the first period.
TNT was not spared of injuries either as Parks suffered a boxer's cut on his left eyebrow while Castro was visibly favoring his hurting calf. Even Erram hurt his right elbow late in the third and hurt his left ankle, 1:58 left in the game. He returned each time to showcase his own resilience.
Phoenix could emerge from the game with unbowed heads.
The Fuel Masters refused to simply buckle under even after staring at a 42-54 lead which TNT erected after Pogoy exploded for eight of his points in the third quarter.
Mallari and Jazul kept Phoenix within striking distance before Jazul scattered 14 of his points in the fourth period to bring the Fuel Masters closer.
Garcia's three-pointer even gave Phoenix a brief taste of the lead at 79-77 and Abueva's three-point play made it an 86-87 count.
Then Castro took over, starting with a triple that made it 90-86. (NC)
TNT 95 - Castro 20, Parks 17, Pogoy 16, Erram 15, Reyes 11, Montalbo 6, Rosario 5, Enciso 4, Carey 1, Washington 0.
PHOENIX 92 - Jazul 21, Perkins 15, Abueva 13, Mallari 13, Garcia 12, Heruela 6, Chua 3, Intal 3, Rios 2, Wright 2, Marcelo 2, Reyes 0, Napoles 0.
Quarters: 16-24; 36-37; 67-61; 95-92.