I’d hate to be in Talk N’ Text (TNT) Ka Tropa head coach Nash Racela’s shoes right now. After suffering a 102-88 defeat last Friday at the hands of the San Miguel Beermen (SMB) in Game 2 of the on-going Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Commissioner’s Cup finals, the young mentor needs to make a tough decision on whether to replace import Joshua Smith for the rest of the best-of-seven series. Smith is very clearly hampered by a foot injury that he sustained during the semis. But the former Georgetown University center was asked to play on by especially his teammates if he could. And he did. The 6’10” 330-pound behemoth made the game-winning shot in Game 1 of the finals to lift TNT to a 104-102 triumph over the Beermen. He also collected 21 points and nine rebounds in that game. But in Game 2, Josh only managed to play 18 minutes and was held to just eleven markers and six boards. He also had five turnovers.
Smith is such a valuable player for Ka Tropa in the playoffs. More than his 19.9 points per game (PPG) and 11.5 rebounds per game (RPG) throughout the conference, his defense is what really made the difference for TNT. A hulking presence in the paint, even other imports find it extremely challenging to make inside baskets. TNT barged into the finals with a 3-1 semis series victory over Ginebra, and Smith was hailed as the main hero.
But now that the series is tied at 1-1, and with Smith seemingly unable to play 100% because of his aching foot, Racela and the TNT management has to make an urgent decision about Josh’s situation. Two standby imports are already in town and willing to step in for Smith. 6’8” forward Mike Myers and 6’5” swingman Michael Craig are waiting in the wings for a chance to see action in the PBA. But while both candidates are undoubtedly skilled, none of them is likely to have the same impact in the game as Smith’s.
There’s still no latest word with regard to the issue as of this writing, as I’m sure TNT is thinking this one through thoroughly. Needless to say, it will all boil down to whether Smith can continue or not, and at what level. If he were just, say, 70% capable, would that be enough to carry the TNT nation to the Promise Land? And how are Myers and Craig figuring in training? These are the main factors to consider in making the big decision. But in my humble opinion, a hobbling Smith could be a liability in a long series. I guess it will all depend on the results of Game 3.
The biggest challenge for TNT without Smith is how to contain three-time PBA MVP June Mar Fajardo, who has been an unstoppable force in the post. And there’s also SMB import Charles Rhodes, who averaged 26.4 points in the conference, on top of 10.4 boards and almost two blocks per game.
But at the end of the day, this series will still be decided by the local stars of both squads. SMB’s talent versus TNT’s depth. The big guns for the Beermen are Alex Cabagnot, Arwind Santos, Chris Ross, Marcio Lassiter and of course, Fajardo. Lassiter is still struggling in the series so far in the first two games but we know Marcio can explode at any given game. As for the former MVP Santos, he started the Beermen’s rally from 17 points down in the opening period of Game 2 by amassing eleven of his 16 markers in the same quarter. Fajardo had a typical monster game of 22 points and eleven rebounds also in Game 2, while Ross chipped in 20 markers and nine assists. For TNT, Jayson Castro will try to make another career game after a 38-point performance in Game 4 of the semis. Expect the veteran stars like Ranidel De Ocampo, Ryan Reyes, Kelly Williams and even Harvey Carey to go all-out against SMB. And the Ka Tropa young blood of Troy Rosario, Mo Tautuaa, Roger Pogoy (who had 27 points in Game 1), RR Garcia, Kris Rosales and Anthony Semerad should provide the spank.