Yes, and no.
That’s what Chot Reyes offered when asked if he was surprised to reach the finals right in his first conference back in the PBA after steering TNT past San Miguel Beer in Game Seven of the Philippine Cup semis, Sunday evening.
“Yes, because I really didn’t expect that we would get through this series — not because I did not have faith in my team, but because we didn’t have all our players. So in that sense, yes,” he said after their 97-79 win.
The straightforward mentor was referring to the tough predicament the Tropang Giga were in early in the series. They missed the services of Kelly Williams in the first four games, as he was under health and safety protocols.
And early in Game Four, Poy Erram suffered a fractured cheekbone. He slammed onto the DHVSU Gym’s flooring hard after counterpart Mo Tautuaa inadvertently fell on his head, causing him to wear a mask next game.
But then, the team managed to overcome all those tough breaks, And now, the flagship MVP Group franchise earned themselves another shot at the Perpetual trophy against the Magnolia Hotshots in a race-to-four affair.
“We told the players before the game last night that if you had told me before the series that we’re going to play this series the first four games without our starting center, and then we’re going to play the last few games with our backup center with a fractured bone and then we’re going to be 3-3 after six games, then we’ll be very, very happy,” shared Reyes.
“I thought that was the most important thing – our frame of mind coming into this ballgame. I said let’s look forward to this game. Let’s not dread going into Game Seven. Let’s be excited. Let’s look forward because we’re so fortunate, we’re so blessed to be even in this position. I think that’s the most important thing when we shifted that thinking and the players bought into it and believed that.
“They came in with great resolve. My job was simply to do that. All the rest, they did it. They put in all the effort, they’re the ones who executed, made the shots, made the defensive stops,” furthered Reyes.
But why wasn’t he surprised at the same time?
For the league’s only five-time Coach of the Year, that’s because getting to the Finals was something that the entire TNT had envisioned during their first-ever meeting after Reyes’ re-appointment earlier this year.
“No, because in our very, very first team meeting, when we were going through all our team development stuff, preseason and all that, we had pictured ourselves already here, in the Finals,” he said. “And I say that with all humility because if you want to get to a certain place, you have to see yourself there first, right? It’s hard to get to someplace if you don’t see where you’re going.
“So, we had to paint this picture for the players to see it clearly. And then, I said, ‘Okay, now you can see the picture. Now, what do we need to do to get there?’ So in that sense, no, because we saw this before,” he added.
As for himself, Reyes is back vying for a title after nine long years, or since TNT lost to B-Meg in the 2012 Commissioner’ Cup Finals. As much as he would want to be glad, the 58-year-old would rather focus on the battle ahead.
“Well, I could feel happier, but I know that there’s still a huge job in front of us.
“There’s a feeling of relief for certain that we got by such a huge, strong team like San Miguel, but there’s also the feeling of, you know, that we are still far from over, that the job is only half done. But at least we got there. Now we got to figure out how to play and compete against this tough Magnolia squad,” he closed.