ANTIPOLO -- Jayson Castro came back just in time for the TNT KaTropa, who used his return as a massive boost to lock down a vital twice-to-beat advantage in the 2019 PBA Governors' Cup quarterfinals.
Returning a week ahead of schedule, Castro played 40 minutes and flirted with a triple-double of 12 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists on 5-for-15 shooting to help stabilize a TNT offense that eventually edged the San Miguel Beermen down the stretch in a crucial last day of the elimination round.
"We needed that win to get into the top four with the twice-to-beat advantage," a relieved Castro said in Filipino after the game. "I'm happy I was able to help the team, and at the same time I'm happy Troy Rosario and [KJ McDaniels] got their confidence back. Because in our last three games, especially our import, they didn't have their rhythm."
Castro was expected to miss a full month but said his return was expedited by a lot of "extra work after practice."
With Castro dictating the pace once more, TNT shot 50.6 percent from the field, had more assists than SMB (26-15) and looked more cohesive overall on offense. Castro's return also helped TNT break out of a three-game slump during his absence.
"Everything is so organized. We all know what kuya Jayson brings to the table. He's the ship captain, the bus driver. He really organizes everything," said Rosario.
Castro admitted he's still trying to get his legs underneath him.
"I'm probably close to 10 (in terms of health) because I really do a lot of extra work after practice. I do everything in order to get my rhythm and my wind back to help my team," he said.
"He was just trying to see if he can compete 100 percent. But I'm sure he's taking it easy. That injury is tricky, it might return again. He has to be smart on how to take care of his body. He'll take it on a game-to-game basis," coach Bong Ravena said.
But after a successful early return led to a huge win Wednesday night, Castro said they're already looking at their next target.
"I'm excited because we know Magnolia's a defensive team. We lost badly to them in that out-of-town game That serves as a motivation for us. I hope we can bounce back against them," he said.