Big games from Mikey Williams and Kib Montalbo powered TNT past NorthPort, 102-92, and onto the top seed in the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup, Wednesday at the DHVSU Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Williams led all scorers with 29 points on 10-for-19 shooting, including five triples, as well as five assists and three boards for the Tropang Giga, whose third straight victory and 9-1 record grant them a twice-to-beat advantage in the playoffs.
Montalbo also had a career game by dropping 22 markers, featuring four threes, on top of five rebounds and three dimes in a starting role, while Troy Rosario and Kelly Williams added 18 and 11, respectively.
"In any tournament, you want to grab any advantage that you can. All this means for us is we have an advantage, but that advantage is not going to mean anything if we don't take advantage of that advantage," remarked TNT head coach Chot Reyes after the game.
"Of course we'd rather be twice-to-beat than need to beat somebody twice, but like I said, the job is far, far from over. It's nice to be in the position we're in, but we're still a long way from being done. We're not thinking about that too much," he continued.
NorthPort raced to a 10-point lead after a 10-3 start to the second quarter, but TNT recovered behind Williams and Rosario, who combined to score 16 of their team's next 23 points for a 42-41 lead at the half. The Tropang Giga then took complete control in the third behind the continued brilliance of Williams, who conspired this time with Montalbo to make sure they outscored their opponents, 34-23, in the quarter.
The Batang Pier pulled to within five at one point in the fourth, but could not muster a tide-turning run in the endgame as Williams and Montalbo continued pressing where it hurt.
TNT, which entered the matchup with the league's best defense, held a previously torrid NorthPort offense to 39.7 percent shooting and 21 turnovers against just 17 assists.
"I thought we caught a break today because NorthPort was playing very, very good basketball," noted Reyes about the Batang Pier, who were coming in on a three-game win run. "The fact that Greg (Slaughter) and Sean Anthony were out tonight, I thought that was big for us."
"Still, they came out with a lot of energy and gave us a lot of problems. We knew we were in for a battle because this team, they're tall, they're athletic, they're long. This was a very bad matchup for us. I'm just glad we were able to come up with the W," he added.
The Tropang Giga also held Batang Pier top gun and reigning Player of the Week Robert Bolick to just 12 points on 3-for-16 shooting, including a 1-for-10 clip on 3s, though the former San Beda star still had 11 assists.
"Credit to Kib and Brian Heruela. They picked him up 94 feet. They made it very difficult for him," shared Reyes. "I don't think there's anyone in the league who can stop Robert Bolick one-on-one. It takes a tribe to do that. That's our belief. It takes a tribe to stop special players like that and I thought we had tremendous effort from everyone else."
Paolo Taha had a team-high 20 points on 6-for-7 shooting for NorthPort, which slipped to 4-4. Kevin Ferrer threw in 17 and five 3s, while Jamie Malonzo finished with 15 on 5-for-11 shooting to go with six rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block. Jonathan Grey, meanwhile, put up 10 in just 12 minutes.
TNT 102 - M. Williams 29, Montalbo 22, Rosario 18, K. Williams 11, Castro 9, Reyes 6, Heruela 4, Pogoy 3, Erram 0, Alejandro 0, Marcelo 0, Mendoza 0.
NorthPort 92 - Taha 20, Ferrer 17, Malonzo 15, Bolick 12, Grey 10, Onwubere 9, Balanza 4, Lanete 4, Elorde 1.
Quarters: 19-22, 42-41, 76-64, 102-92.
- Anthony was listed out as he deals with bone spurs, while Slaughter remains recovering from a bacterial infection.
- TNT made 16-for-39 shots from deep (41 percent) and collected 26 points off NorthPort's miscues.
- NorthPort vs. Magnolia on Sep. 17, Friday, at 12:30 p.m.
- TNT vs. Alaska on Sep. 18, Sunday, at 4:35 p.m.