TNT had just succeeded in setting up a title showdown with Barangay Ginebra when coach Jojo Lastimosa described where he and his team stand going to the grandest stage of the PBA Governors’ Cup.
“I got nothing to lose. Our team has nothing to lose,” Lastimosa declared after the Tropang Giga’s 107-92 win over the Meralco Bolts in the semifinal series-clinching Game 4 Friday at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Tapped to call the shots this conference with Chot Reyes to concentrate on Gilas Pilipinas duties, Lastimosa accepts the reality TNT faces ahead of the best-of-seven championship clash which starts on Easter Sunday, April 9, at the same venue.
Ginebra will be eyeing a third successive title and fifth in the last six editions of the season-ending conference, plus an eighth championship in the tenure of coach Tim Cone, who mentored Lastimosa during the glory years of Alaska in the 1990s.
“He’s been there, he’s done that and everything’s riding for them, and everybody’s expecting Ginebra to win this series, this championship,” Lastimosa said.
But that doesn’t mean Lastimosa and the Tropang Giga will just let the Gin Kings breeze into another title.
The Tropang Giga showed what they are capable of in eliminating the Bolts, riding on another big performance from import Rondae Hollis-Jefferson while being ably supported by Calvin Oftana, Mikey Williams, RR Pogoy, Jayson Castro and Poy Erram.
Hollis-Jefferson scored 42 points with 11 rebounds, three assists and two steals as he led a third quarter breakaway that spelled doom for the Bolts, who were forced to play catch up the rest of the way.
Those numbers despite having to observe the Muslim holy month of Ramadan where he can only eat before sunrise and after sunset.
Though embracing the underdog tag, Lastimosa is also confident that TNT can get the job.
“We’re only here to probably spoil the party, and hopefully we can come out with a good game plan and with a good game like we did today in this series, and we got Rondae on my side. So I’m okay with it,” said the Tropang Giga mentor.
Lay out plans
The next step is for TNT to take advantage of the Holy Week to lay out a plan to put a dent on Ginebra’s titles record under Cone and resident import Justin Brownlee, who is 6-of-6 in the Finals.
The Hollis-Jefferson-Brownlee matchup is expected to draw a lot of attention, which the former is looking forward to.
“I’m a competitor,” the former Brooklyn Net in the NBA said. “If you put me up against anybody, I like my chances.”
Ginebra and TNT will play for the ultimate prize for the first time since the 2020 Philippine Cup bubble. The Gin Kings prevailed in five games in Pampanga as injuries hounded the Tropang Giga.
Meralco’s bid for a fifth title clash with Ginebra ended despite a determined performance from import KJ McDaniels, who had 37 points and 12 rebounds.
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