MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Import Josh Smith hit the game-winner, while RR Pogoy played like he was not a rookie, putting up a career-high 27 points, as the TNT KaTropa escaped with a Game 1 victory over the San Miguel Beermen, 104-102, in the best-of-7 2017 PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals.
Smith hit the game-winning two-pointer with just over a second left to break the final deadlock and put away SMB for good on Wednesday, June 21, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Smith connected on the hook shot off a broken final play, which was designed for Jayson Castro. But the veteran guard was denied by Ross, forcing the ball into the hands of Smith, whose shot bounced right in and left San Miguel with only one final halfcourt heave before the final buzzer.
“It was for Jayson. He wasn’t open. I caught the ball, I was looking for somebody to pass it to. Once there was nobody else I just decided to do it myself,” said Smith, who has been playing through a foot injury since the semifinals and had been on day-to-day status up until Game 1.
“I screwed up on that last play,” coach Nash Racela conceded. “San Miguel did a good job denying Jayson the ball. It’s good that Joshua had the presence of mind to attack June Mar (Fajardo) because they were actually denying all the small men. So he really had no choice but to make a play, and he did.”
Smith finished with 21 points off the bench once more to go with 9 rebounds and two assists.
The import’s last play does not, however, overshadow Pogoy’s statement game in his first finals appearance. The rookie buried 5 3-pointers, including one that gave TNT a 10-point cushion halfway through the fourth. He was a huge problem for the Beermen, who came out flat to start the series and failed to find a rhythm amid the KaTropa’s pesky defense.
Castro also had his own big moment, coming up with a clutch 3-pointer that put the KaTropa up 102-99 with 44.2 seconds left. Castro was a rebound shy of a triple-double with 14 points, 10 assists, and 9 rebounds.
Troy Rosario was another finals first-timer who did not balk under the all-new atmosphere and pressure on his way to scoring 10 points and grabbing 6 rebounds, plus plenty of hustle plays.
TNT capitalized on the cold-shooting San Miguel, who shot 6-of-29 from deep, and let its defense dictate the game from the start. They forced the Beermen to 13 first half turnovers and picked up 19 big points off of that, while San Miguel had only 6 points off of TNT’s 8 turnovers.
SMB’s total turnovers rose to 23 and they gave up 27 points by the end of it.
Charles Rhodes had a highlight 21-point opening quarter but was scoreless for the next two quarters before finishing up with 31 on top of 13 rebounds, and 4 assists. He battled foul trouble and turned the ball over 6 times.
June Mar Fajardo put up 18 points and 13 rebounds, while Alex Cabagnot added 16 points. Chris Ross and Arwind Santos combined for 22 markers as the Beermen’s shallow bench came back to haunt them in Game 1.
TNT’s deep bench, which is the team’s edge against the championship-tested San Miguel, outscored the Beermen’s by 46-18. Although Smith accounted for 21 of those.
Game 2 of this series is on Friday, June 23.
TNT (104): Pogoy 27, Smith 21, Castro 14, Garcia 13, Rosario 10, Tautuaa 7, Semerad 5, Williams 5, Rosales 2, Golla 0, Carey 0, Nuyles 0.
San Miguel (102): Rhodes 31, Fajardo 18, Cabagnot 16, Ross 11, Santos 11, Lassiter 8, De Ocampo 6, Espinas 1, Tubid 0.
Quarter scores: 24-31, 56-51, 75-73, 104-102.