By JONAS TERRADO
Game Today (Smart Araneta Coliseum)
6:30 p.m. – Phoenix vs TNT KaTropa
TNT KaTropa and Phoenix, two teams that endured rollercoaster rides in the eliminations, dispute the eighth and last quarterfinals berth when they meet in a do-or-die tonight in the PBA Philippine Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The KaTropa and Fuel Masters meet at 6:30 p.m., the winner earning the right to face top seed defending champion San Miguel Beer, who holds a twice-to-beat advantage.
Both teams made it to sudden death after a wild and woolly race for the remaining quarterfinal slots came to an end this week. TNT and Phoenix won their final matches but had to rely on the results of other games to get this chance.
TNT routed NLEX, 101-75, Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena while Phoenix survived GlobalPort’s last-ditch rally, 104-100, two nights ago at the Big Dome after leading by a high of 31 in the third quarter.
The two squads each finished the elims at 5-6 for a share of seventh to 10th with GlobalPort and Blackwater. GlobalPort wound up as the seventh seed despite the loss to Phoenix on a superior quotient while Blackwater was eliminated for having the worst ratio among the four teams.
TNT had a big exhale late Friday after Barangay Ginebra San Miguel escaped with a 100-92 triple overtime victory over Rain or Shine. A Ginebra loss would have led to an early exit for the KaTropa due to an inferior quotient based on a five-way tiebreaker.
Ginebra finished fourth at 6-5 to arrange a best-of-three rematch with Rain or Shine which starts tomorrow at the Mall of Asia Arena. NLEX, which had the same record as Ginebra and Rain or Shine, fell to sixth and will take on No. 3 seed Alaska (7-4) in the other best-of-three duel.
Phoenix holds a psychological edge over TNT after a thrilling 74-72 victory in their only meeting last Feb. 7 at the Mall of Asia Arena, with Doug Kramer scoring the game-winner off a Matthew Wright assist in the dying seconds.
It was the same game that saw TNT sustain injuries to key players. Troy Rosario suffered a bad fall while trying to haul down a rebound in the fourth quarter while Jayson Castro hurt his ankle that later led to his absence in one of two FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers matches last week.
Both players are back and expected to figure prominently in TNT’s bid to avenge the elims defeat. KaTropa coach Nash Racela is also looking to rely on RR Pogoy, Kelly Williams, Tony Semerad, Ryan Reyes and Mo Tautuaa.
TNT is also eyeing another strong showing from new addition Jericho Cruz, who scored 17 points in his first game since being acquired from Rain or Shine two weeks ago.