SMART CLARK GIGA CITY–Time and again, Jayson Castro proved that he is the closer of TNT.
On Wednesday night, Castro took matters into his own hands down the crucial stretch as the Tropang Giga eked out a thrilling 95-92 victory over the Phoenix Fuel Masters in Game 1 of their best-of-five PBA Philippine Cup semifinals series.
With TNT holding a slim 87-86 lead, the 34-year-old guard from Bacolor, Pampanga knocked down a triple over RJ Jazul for a 90-86 advantage with 1:14 remaining in the game.
The Gilas Pilipinas star answered back after Calvin Abueva’s basket to restore a four-point buffer, 92-88, with 26.5 seconds left before he drained the insurance free throws to seal the victory.
Castro, a five-time Best Player of the Conference, finished with 20 points, firing 12 of those in the pivotal fourth period after scoring only three points in the first half.
“As one of the veterans kailangan na talagang ipakita sa mga young guys na even though ‘yung first and second quarter sobrang sama kailangan kong maging aggressive pa rin both on defense and offense,” said Castro, who also tallied six rebounds, six assists and two steals.
“At saka it’s playoffs time na kaya kailangan magpakita talaga.”
The six-time PBA champion also shrugged off a nagging calf injury, which he rested for most part of TNT’s 104-83 rout of Alaska in the quarterfinals and the entirety of the Tropang Giga’s 80-74 loss to Rain or Shine to end the eliminations.
“Okay naman na (‘yung injury). Mina-manage pa rin ‘yung time. At the same time, wala nang excuses ‘to kasi playoffs na. Kailangan manalo talaga.”
TNT head coach Bong Ravena underscored the importance of having the luxury to rest his main man.
“Malaking bagay like our previous games napapahinga namin si Jayson and especially going to the semis alam namin na hindi madali ang games. So as much as possible, we have to keep him well-rested para ready sya every game, (he can play) long minutes and he will last especially sa endgame,” said Ravena, who also commended Castro’s late heroics.
“We’re glad that his seniority stepped up tonight. His leadership, execution and good decision-making, ‘yun ang mga kailangan namin kay Jayson he. We’re fortunate also na na-shoot niya ‘yung very important baskets.”
Heading into Game 2 which is set on Friday, Castro stressed that the Tropang Giga cannot let their guard down especially with the Fuel Masters forcing a close game even sans top MVP contender Matthew Wright, who sprained his right ankle early in the semis opener and never checked back in.
“1-0 is nothing. Kailanga namin paghandaan yung Game 2. With or without Matthew dapat nandun pa rin kami,” he said. “Marami kaming adjustments na kailangan gawin kasi kahit wala si Matthew ang ganda ng rotation ng bola nila.”