By REYNALD MAGALLON
TNT survived the ejection Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and held on to a nail-biting 101-98 overtime win over Converge to barge into the win column in the 2023 PBA Commissioner’s Cup at the Ynares Center in Antipolo on Saturday, Nov. 11.
The Tropang Giga played for almost the entirety of the second half and overtime period without Hollis-Jefferson but got a vintage performance from Jayson Castro and unlikely heroes from Jewel Ponferrada and Brian Heruela to pull through with the win.
Jayson Castro turned back the hands of time and put up 23 points, eight rebounds and four assists – none bigger than the pass that found Ponferrada with enough space for an undergoal stab to give TNT the three point cushion, 101-98 with 16.9 seconds left.
The FiberXers had the chance to send the game to a second overtime period but desperate attempts from Mac Tallo and Tom Vodanovich failed to find the bottom of the net.
Ponferrada provided quality minutes off the bench, finishing with 12 points including another hook shot off a Heruela assist that broke a 95-all deadlock in the extra period and gave the lead to TNT for good.
With Castro, getting a breather on the bench, Heruela also chipped in with a huge layup in the next possession to keep Converge at bay.
Calvin Oftana added 19 points before fouling out late in regulation.
In the first game,
Suleiman Braimoh and Chris Newsome delivered the killer blows in the end game as Meralco escaped Blackwater, 91-84, to go 2-0.
Held scoreless for four minutes late in the final frame and with their once double-digit lead cut down to just five, the Bolts banked on their defense that led to a Braimoh two-handed dunk before Newsome nailed a dagger deuce to give Meralco to a perfect start so far to the young conference.
Braimoh’s fastbreak jam served as a fitting exclamation point to his monster performance of 40 points and 16 rebounds while Newsome’s timely jumper more than made up for a lackluster showing that saw him only finish with five points.
No other player scored in double-figures for the Bolts although Cliff Hodge and Bong Quinto both chipped in nine. Hodge also collared 16 rebounds from Meralco which also bucked the absence of Allein Maliksi who sustained a fractured nose in the first half.
The Bolts looked to be on their way to the victory after establishing an 85-75 lead with a little over five minutes left. Meralco, however, struggled to find the gaps to Blackwater defense allowing the Bossing to put together a mini 5-0 run to threaten, 80-85