Maintaining an unblemished slate in the PBA Governors' Cup did not come without a hitch for the TNT KaTropa, who needed every bit of KJ McDaniels' 51 points in a 116-113 win over the Meralco Bolts on Saturday.
McDaniels shot 17-for-24 from the field and added 10 boards and four blocks for TNT, who climbed to 6-0 following the gutsy win. Roger Pogoy scored 11 of his 23 points in the payoff period and made 6-of-7 3s, while Jayson Castro added 21 points, four rebounds and four assists.
TNT was able to post an eight-point cushion, 111-103, after a Pogoy triple from the left wing put them there with 3:36 left, but the Bolts didn't fade easily after Allen Durham scored eight of Meralco's next 10 points, including a jump hook that put them by two, 115-113 to stay in the game with nine seconds remaining.
McDaniels (12-of-16 on free throws) later split his charities off the timeout to seal the score before TNT did enough on defense, where they forced Durham to miss a potential game-tying triple from the top of the arc in the following possession.
"Another tough game for us. Meralco played really, really well. They made it so hard for us. They hit their shots, made stops but we're just lucky again," coach Bong Ravena said. "We just have to find ways how to play really, really good defense and not letting them score 30 points a quarter. That's a thing we have to improve. We're just lucky we won this game."
Sloppy defensive work by TNT gave Meralco some ground early on as Allen Durham and Baser Amer -- who scored 11 of his 13 points in the opening period -- helped the Bolts run off to a 12-0 start and decisively win the first 12 minutes, 32-16. TNT later came up with a massive counter and held their foes to just 4-for-14 (28.6 percent) in the second quarter to cut the deficit to three, 52-49.
No team was able to wrest the lead immediately after halftime as McDaniels, who poured in 22 points in the third quarter, and Durham, who answered with 19, typified a third-quarter shootout that saw TNT and Meralco combine to shoot 24-for-35 (68.5 percent) from the field.
TNT was only able to seize the lead for good in the fourth, where a McDaniels basket underneath and a left wing trey gave TNT a 95-91 lead at the 9:24 mark.
Per PBA statistician Fidel Mangonon III, teams who reached six wins in the last four iterations of the season-ending conference booked outright quarterfinals spots. But Ravena said the KaTropa are not contented -- not after surviving a close game for the third straight time due to their spotty defense.
"It doesn't matter," Ravena said when told of their quarters chances. "Our level of play should be improving. We're not playing good defense. We even fell behind early in that first quarter. That can't happen, we cannot afford to have a margin that big against other teams."
That TNT win negated a splendid performance by Durham, who came up with a near triple-double of 43 points, 12 rebounds and nine dimes. Chris Newsome added 14 points and six assists for the Bolts, who slid to 3-2.
"We have to improve and stick to the game plan. We can't have slow starts and we can't give 30 points a quarter. If we can minimize that, our chances of winning are better. Big teams are coming up in the following games, and we have to keep improving our defense," added Ravena.
TNT (116) -- McDaniels 51, Pogoy 23, Castro 21, Rosario 12, Trollano 6, Vosotros 3, Heruela 0, Carey 0, De Leon 0, Reyes 0, Washington 0, Taha 0.
Meralco -- Durham 43, Newsome 14, Amer 13, Almazan 10, Pinto 9, Canaleta 9, Quinto 7, Hugnatan 4, Salva 3, Faundo 1, Jackson 0, Caram 0.
Quarters: 16-32, 49-52, 84-87, 116-113.
- TNT only had nine bench points this game.
- The KaTropa shot 62.5 percent during that strong second period to counter Meralco's 61.9 percent in the opening frame.
- More quarterfinals tidbits: Five wins proved to be enough for teams to qualify for the playoffs in the last four PBA conferences, per Mangonon.
-- McDaniels' 51 is the highest output from an import so far this conference. That might also be his career-high. "I play a lot of basketball, I think that might be my first. I just wanna keep getting better, keep making my teammates better. I don't really go out there to score, I just go out there do what I need to do to help the team," he said.
- Meralco vs. Blackwater on Oct. 18 at the Ynares Center-Antipolo
- TNT vs. Alaska on Oct. 18 at the Ynares Center-Antipolo