TNT Tropang Giga stays hot, thumps Meralco Bolts in Game 1 of PBA Governors' Cup semifinal

RR Pogoy and TNT Tropang Giga cruised to a 110-80 thrashing of the Meralco Bolts to win Game 1. Courtesy of the PBA

TNT Tropang Giga pounced on a listless Meralco Bolts squad to take a 110-81 win in Game 1 of their PBA Governors' Cup best-of-five semifinal series on Friday night. TNT is on a 10-game winning streak this conference and have won 12 of 13 and show no signs of slowing down. Game 2 is on Sunday.

Defensive roles reversed

Entering this game, the Bolts were tied for the best defense in the tournament, giving up just 100.4PPG. The Tropang Giga scored their hundredth point with still 7:46 left, a triple from RR Pogoy that put them ahead by 27.

As impressive as TNT's offense was against a topnotch defensive team, it was their own defense that left interim coach Jojo Lastimosa satisfied, especially after they held the Bolts to just 32.9% shooting.

"I know we can score," he said. "I know we can get points from anywhere. But my concern really was, can we match up with their defense? In the first half, they shot 36% and I was surprised. That was pretty good defense there in the first half. We are surrendering 46% shooting in the eliminations and that's middle of the pack. I talked about our defense in the semifinals and I know this is gonna get tougher for us."

The Tropang Giga were also able to pounce on a Bolts team that was just two days removed from an emotional overtime win.

"We talked about matching their energy, especially Cliff Hodge," Lastimosa said. "It was really on the board and we know Meralco is a very hard-working team and nobody can outwork them. And if we can only match their energy and their intensity, we should be okay.

"I thought we fouled a lot, and fouling a lot is not really good defense. That was my concern in the first half because we were in penalty early. I think that we should just remind them that if you want to compete with the big boys, you should be able to stay in front of these guys.

"I was just surprised that Meralco was lacking a bit of energy and it was an emotional victory for them and maybe they're still on a little bit of a high. But I don't want to think that Meralco's not gonna come up with a great plan. Norman's (Black) been there. I've played against him and he's coached a long time and he's won a lot. And he knows how to adjust in this kind of situation."

Black acknowledged that his players lacked their usual energy and didn't push it, benching his starters in the fourth quarter.

"That was just two days ago and we're right back at battle tonight," Black said. "I could have brought my guys back and try to make a run in the fourth quarter but we were down by 30 already and I could see we just didn't really have the legs tonight. So hopefully we'll be better rested on Sunday as well as have a chance to be able to study what happened tonight so we can be better prepared."

Overall, Meralco simply failed to show up. Chris Newsome, who led the Bolts with 33 points against Magnolia last Wednesday, took just five shots and chipped in just nine points. Aaron Black, the hero against the Hotshots, had just seven points and shot 2-for-9.

"My biggest concern, really, was keeping (Chris)Newsome in check," Lastimosa said. "And I was actually ready for Rondae to pick him up because I've got so much respect for Newsome. We didn't see much of him tonight, but he's gonna be ready for Game 2 and we're gonna be ready for him."

RHJ is Mr. Triple Double

TNT import Rondae Hollis-Jefferson registered a triple-double for the second straight game, logging 22 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists in just 30 minutes. Lastimosa said his import simply "sees the floor better", while Black admitted his import KJ McDaniels, who scored just 12 points on 5-of-16 shooting, needs to rise to the occasion.

"(Hollis-Jefferson) almost had a triple double in the first half," Black said. "That's the challenge to KJ. He's up against a very tough import. He's going to have to raise his game for us to have any success in this series because the kid seems to be pretty good. He's a good player. We'll study the tape and figure out what he was doing offensively. It's not just his scoring. It's the fact that he's facilitating for his teammates. He's getting his teammates wide-open shots off his penetration. We have to figure out how to help defensively against him and how we can control the outside shooters at the same time."

Moving on

Black and the Bolts have been in this situation before. In the 2016 Governors' Cup semifinals, they also lost Game 1 against TNT but then swept the last three games.

"It's nothing new," Lastimosa noted. "They've lost the first game before and won three straight over TNT so it's not something that he hasn't done before."

Black is also not too worried. "It's one game. That's the thing about basketball. Whether it's one point or 30 points, it's one loss. We looked a little bit tired tonight. We didn't seem to have our legs right at the very start of the game. I guess one of the goals between now and the next game is try to get my guys refreshed and rested and ready to go on Sunday.

"At the same time we got outplayed by TNT, so we also have to figure out what they did correct and how we can correct our mistakes against them. Good basketball tonight. They played well tonight."