By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter
THE TnT Tropang Giga are back on the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) summit after six years following their successful conquest of this year’s All-Filipino championship.
Defeated the Magnolia Pambansang Manok Hotshots, 4-1, in their best-of-seven Philippine Cup finals series, capped by a 94-79 win in Game Five on Friday, TnT is a champion for the first time since 2015.
It was a culmination of a long process of transition for a winning franchise that saw it go through a number of personnel changes in search of a team that would click and get it back to the top.
The journey was anything, but easy, including having no finals appearance in 11 of the previous 14 PBA tournaments. And in the three they did make it to the “Big Dance,” it was on the losing end, the most recent in 2020 in the Philippine Cup against the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Kings.
Leading the Tropang Giga to the Promised Land anew was comebacking PBA coach Chot Reyes, who returned to the sidelines this season after nearly a decade away to take on other pursuits, including being coach of the national team.
Anchored on the push of consistently bettering themselves, Reyes-led TnT overcame every obstacle that was thrown its way throughout the tournament.
“I have to give it to these guys… They put in all the effort. They stayed together through adversity. It’s been a long journey and I’m proud of these guys,” said Mr. Reyes during the trophy presentation at the Don Honorio Ventura State University Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.
The latest title is the sixth All-Filipino crown for Mr. Reyes, tying him with the great Baby Dalupan, and ninth overall in the PBA, good for joint fourth place with Jong Uichico.
Playing a key role in TnT’s title run was rookie Mikey Williams.
In the lead-up to the Philippine Cup, there were concerns of his availability as he was among those late to join their teams in the preparation.
But when he got on board, everything practically went well.
Mr. Williams, the fourth overall pick in this year’s rookie draft, flourished in a starting role, helping the team to the best record of 10-1 in the elimination round before continuing to ascend in the playoffs.
In the finals, he had it memorable with averages of 27.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.8 assist en route to being named finals most valuable player. He was the first rookie to achieve such a feat after Brandon Cablay in 2003 for Alaska.
“The whole team definitely made my job a lot easier. They just gave me confidence and continued to push me. Thanks to the 15 (players) and the coaches,” said Mr. Williams upon receiving the award.
Also stepping up and doing their share were young veterans Roger Pogoy, Troy Rosario and JP Erram, who did it on both ends of the court and were rewarded with their first-ever PBA title.
Mr. Rosario, in particular, was all heart after playing hurt in the last two games of the series following his freak on-court accident in Game Three where he injured his back and left pinkie.
While he was ruled out for the rest of the series, he forged ahead and played, providing valuable on-court contributions as well as inspiration to his team.
Mr. Pogoy had his ups and down throughout, but continued to be confident and go-getting while Mr. Erram did everything asked of him be that as a starter or off the bench.
While they took a step back for their younger teammates, old hands Jayson Castro, Kelly Williams and Ryan Reyes did not fail to make an impact in their title run.
Mr. Castro was a true mentor to the young guards of the team while still doing Jayson Castro things despite limited minutes. Mr. Williams showed he still has a lot in him notwithstanding retiring last season. Mr. Reyes was his do-it-all self.
“It was worth it. This is really special for me. I hope we can another championship,” said Mr. Castro, now a seven-time PBA champion.
On their way to winning the title, the Tropang Giga defeated erstwhile defending champion Barangay Ginebra in the quarterfinals and the San Miguel Beermen in the semifinals.
Incidentally, Barangay Ginebra, San Miguel and Magnolia were the champions in 13 of the last 14 conferences prior to this year.
The 2021 PBA Philippine Cup is the sixth All-Filipino championship of the Tropang Giga in franchise history and eighth overall in the PBA.