TNT Tropang Giga ready for whatever lies ahead after seeing off Phoenix Super LPG to reach PBA Governors' Cup semifinals

Glenn Khobuntin stepped up on Wednesday with a career-high 19 points to help TNT Tropang Giga defeat Phoenix Super LPG 132-105 in the 2023 PBA Governors' Cup quarterfinals. PBA Media Bureau

TNT Tropang Giga became the third team to advance to the 2023 PBA Governors' Cup semifinals following a 132-105 thrashing of the Phoenix Super LPG in their quarterfinal clash Wednesday.

After allowing the Fuel Masters to score 41 points in the first quarter, the top-seeded Tropang Giga turned up the defensive intensity and limited Phoenix to just 64 points the rest of the way for their 9th straight win and 11th in 12 games.

"I think there was just a lot of frustrations in the first half," TNT interim coach Jojo Lastimosa said. "We probably were expecting too much from ourselves that Phoenix is a pushover but they are not. And when we could not get the lead, everyone was frustrated.

"Not only the players, but even the coaches. So at halftime we just said we need to put the frustration level down. We cannot play frustrated basketball."

Several players stepped up on offense, but it was Glenn Khobuntin who stood out with his career-high 19 points.

"I just listen to 'kuya' (big brother) Jayson (Castro)," Khobuntin said of the TNT captain who scored 20 points off the bench. "It was 'kuya' Jayson who kept us composed after the first half. Just play to the level of TNT, and we did that in the second half."

TNT hasn't lost since Feb. 1 and will face either Meralco Bolts or Magnolia Hotshots in the best-of-five semifinals.

TNT fine either way

Whoever they face, Lastimosa isn't worried.

"I like it. I like it so much," he said. "We match up well against Magnolia and we match up well against Meralco. I think we have enough length to match up with them. We have enough big guards to match with their big guards as well. I'm fine with whichever."

The Tropang Giga likely lost back-up center Kelly Williams for the rest of the season after he went down with a calf injury, but the good news is Poy Erram finally saw action for the first time this conference.

"That doesn't go away quickly, so we're expecting the worst," Lastimosa said of Williams, who exited the venue with a noticeable limp and declined to speak with the media. The injury forced Erram to finally suit up, even if Lastimosa wanted him to get a few more practices in.

"They were pushing for Poy to play some minutes tonight. On the contrary, I didn't want to use him. He's only practiced with us I think twice, so I don't how good of a shape he's in. But (regular TNT coach) Chot (Reyes) pushed for him in the last five minutes. 'Put Poy in.' Because we might need him down in the playoffs since Kelly might have a season-ending injury. Poy is needed in the lineup so I was happy about the outcome."

Lastimosa placed Erram's conditioning at "60-65%", adding: "If he can get to the 75 level in the semifinals that will be a big help. Knowing Meralco and Magnolia, they hold their opponents down to less than 100, it's gonna be challenging. But this team is built for it."

Shoutout to LA

Lastimosa kicked off the post-game press conference by wishing the best to Barangay Ginebra guard LA Tenorio, who was on the Alaska Aces roster when the former was an assistant coach and who announced Tuesday that he was battling colon cancer.

"I just want to give a shoutout to LA and his family," said Lastimosa.

"We all feel for him and we're pulling for him. Knowing LA, with the time he spent with us in Alaska, I know he's a pretty strong guy. LA is a guy who can take this. So I just want to say that we're praying for him and his family."

What's next for the Fuel Masters

This lopsided loss ended Phoenix's 2022-23 season, but interim coach Jamike Jarin was all praises for his crew.

"I'm really proud of everybody," Jarin said. "They fought hard for 48 minutes. They got beat by a lot in the end but that doesn't show how hard we fought as a team. Hat's off to TNT though."

If Jarin had his way, he'd want everyone to come back.

"We have a few (expiring contracts) but I would love to see everybody come back," he added.

"We have a group of very hardworking players that deserve to be in the PBA. We're just gonna get better with our attitude and the culture we've built, I'd love to see everybody come back and just get better. As the years will go on, I think this team will get better."

Jarin took over in January on an interim basis after Topex Robinson left to take on the De La Salle Green Archers head coaching job.

"How I wish I had more time to prepare," explained Jarin. "But it was all right because I'm not coming in from the outside. I was the assistant of coach Topex. I'd live and die with these young men right now. So I'm just thankful, grateful and happy for these young men that they continue to compete and grow.

"We don't know who's in the draft. But we'll make our picks. We'll talk about it, coaches will talk about it, players will talk about it. What we need and what we don't need. But it's still a long way and we still don't know who's gonna come in."

As for his interim tag and whether it will be removed anytime soon, Jarin isn't too concerned.

"I'm a basketball coach, If they tell me to coach, I'll coach. If they tell me to sit down, I'll sit down."