MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Joshua Smith was too much of an overwhelming presence for Barangay Ginebra San Miguel and he led TNT KaTropa to a 100-94 win in game 1 of the 2017 PBA Commissioner's Cup semifinals on Sunday, June 11 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Smith put up 35 points and 13 rebounds coming off the bench once again. The most telling number is Smith collecting 11 of his boards on the offensive glass as he used his bulk and might to bulldoze the Gin Kings and assert himself in the paint all game long.
The KaTropa held double-digit leads as early as the first half and managed to have an answer for every Gin Kings rally, mostly leaning on the heft of Smith to power his way to the basket.
"Well again, just like the last game, again if you give him minutes, he will give you the numbers," head coach Nash Racela said.
"I think today he had 35, rebounds maybe not that much, but because of Ginebra's defense, they really concentrated on neutralizing Joshua and almost like having two or 3 guys on him every single time."
Racela remained coy about the wisdom behind Smith coming off the bench, an unusual move for import conferences.
"I don't know. Sometimes when I say it's part of the plan, it came out he was feeling something so baka hindi na totoo ang sinasabi ko (so maybe what I'm saying isn't true anymore)," he said, referring to the quarterfinals when he initially said the move was for strategy but it turned out Smith was feeling under the weather at the same time.
"It might be a game plan, it might not be a game plan. As long as we benefitted from doing that, we might continue to do that, it depends."
Guard Jayson Castro went scoreless for the first 3 quarters and hit his first point off a free throw with just over 3 minutes left in the game. But the veteran came through when most needed, burying the dagger 3-pointer with 14 seconds left to push TNT's lead to 100-94 and keep Ginebra at bay for good.
That triple turned out to be Castro's lone field goal for an entire game as he missed 9 of his other prior attempts. Although he had only 4 points, his presence was thoroughly felt on the floor with 6 assists and going +15 in 28 minutes of play.
"Jayson will be Jayson, he was really born for those moments. He was struggling the whole game," Racela said. "He hit the biggest shot of the game."
RR Pogoy, who had 17 points with 3 triples and the only starter in double figures, also delivered late with a huge trey, 95-90, as TNT weathered Ginebra's last-ditch effort to snatch the win.
Ranidel De Ocampo chipped in 12 markers, 5 boards, and 3 dimes off the bench as well.
Justin Brownlee led Ginebra with 24 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists, two steals, and no turnovers.
Japeth Aguilar and LA Tenorio combined for 30 points. Kevin Ferrer and Joe Devance each had 10 markers in a game in which Ginebra never tasted the lead and trailed by as many as 15 points.
Game 2 of this best-of-5 series is on Tuesday, June 13.
TNT (100): Smith 35, Pogoy 17, De Ocampo 12, Garcia 8, Rosario 6, Semerad 6, Williams 5, Castro 4, Rosales 4, Reyes 2, Carey 0.
Ginebra (94): Brownlee 24, Tenorio 15, Aguilar 15, Devance 10, Ferrer 10, Mercado 7, Thompson 7, Marcelo 4, Ellis 2, Caguioa 0.
Quarter scores: 23-13, 45-37, 73-66, 100-94.