And to think just 20 days ago, Barangay Ginebra was playing merely to survive the elimination round.
Now the Gin Kings, finding their groove at the right time in the tournament, are within a Sunday stroll of making the finals of the PBA Governors’ Cup.
“We have to come back and see if we can bring the same performance on Sunday,” Ginebra coach Tim Cone said on the heels of a 104-94 Game 2 victory over NLEX on Saturday at Mall of Asia Arena. “Our job is not yet done.”
Just last March 6, Barangay Ginebra needed a magical rescue job from seldom-used veteran Jeff Chan to fashion out a hard-earned 104-93 victory over Rain or Shine that kept the Kings from spiraling out of the quarterfinals hunt. They now lead the Road Warriors, 2-0, in the race-to-three affair.
That third win, however, won’t be easy and the Gin Kings know it.
“Closeout games are hard. Always hard,” said Cone. “There’s a level of desperation on the other side of the floor.”
And if there’s one team that desperation always works for, it is for whatever squad is being handled by the coach opposite Cone’s side of the court.
“I know it’s possible [to come back from a 0-2 deficit],” Cone said. “And with [NLEX coach] Yeng [Guiao’s] teams, it always seems probable. They’re always a team that’s going to come back. There’s no doubt.”
“So we’re just going to take Sunday as one game we’d prepare for. We’ll try to meet their intensity as we go, the same thing we did tonight. We’re not going to change our approach.”
One thing Ginebra did Friday night was use a committee to make up for the absence of spring-legged forward Japeth Aguilar.
“I think that’s really the key to it all. We talked about the fact that nobody’s gonna be able to replace Japeth by themselves. [Winning] was going to take a collective effort,” said Cone.
Among those who stepped up was Nard Pinto, who came up with 10 points in the second period, where the Kings fell behind by 10.
Then came a third quarter that had always been wobbly for Ginebra. This time, Justin Brownlee, Scottie Thompson and Joe Devance combined to help the Kings erect an 18-point lead, 78-60, which they used as buffer until the buzzer.
“That’s something we couldn’t do early in the conference. We’re playing the third quarter very badly. It’s something we talked about we’re trying to correct,” Cone said. “We’ve been doing a better job at it. Guys are focused at halftime. And the stakes are much higher, so you got to come out [strong].”
Brownlee topscored with 32 points, as Thompson notched his seventh straight double-double of 17 points and 12 rebounds. Christian Standhardinger chipped in 17 while LA Tenorio added 15.
NLEX’s local cast finally got going in the contest, but a lethargic outing by import Cameron Clark doomed the Road Warriors’ chances at coming back.
Matt Nieto wound up finishing with 19 points, with Clark and four others finishing in double figures.
“Our locals scored a little better, the scoring of our import fizzled out,” said Guiao. “The difference between Brownlee’s 32 and [Clark’s] 15 is 17 … [he] wasn’t able to cancel out his counterpart’s performance. That complicated our problems.”
In the other semifinal bracket, Meralco leveled its series with top seed Magnolia with a defensively-gritty 81-75 victory in the second game.
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