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Out of gas

Barangay Ginebra crumbled in the homestretch against TNT in their best-of-five PBA Commissioner’s Cup semifinal series and bowed out of contention after imploding in the final minutes of Game 4 at the Cuneta Astrodome last Saturday.

Ginebra was up, 106-103, with 7:39 left and looked ready to take it to a deciding Game 5 when the roof caved in. All of a sudden, Ginebra’s engine began to sputter. TNT center Joshua Smith sat out the last 6:26 as coach Nash Racela stepped up the pace with Ginebra running out of gas. TNT detonated a 19-3 bomb to close out the contest as Jayson Castro hit nine points, Kelly Williams eight and Smith two in the decisive salvo. Three of TNT’s last seven field goal conversions were layups.

After L. A. Tenorio buried a triple to make it 106-103, TNT went on an 8-0 run. Tenorio broke the silence with a free throw but Ginebra’s only field goal from then was a Japeth Aguilar dunk, time down to 1:42. Ginebra missed 10 of its last 11 attempts from the floor as TNT held on to win, 122-109. That settled the series, 3-1, for TNT.

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Castro was on fire from the onset and finished with 38 points. He’d averaged only 7.7 points in the first three games of the series. Castro kept Sol Mercado busy and took away his offense as Sol Train went 0-of-8 from the floor in 30:16 minutes. As a team, Ginebra shot only 41 percent from the field compared to TNT’s 53 percent. Ginebra had more field goal attempts, 94-89, but could only covert 39 to TNT’s 47. From triple distance, TNT sizzled with 13-of-29 while Ginebra knocked down only 6-of-27. Castro fired 5-of-8, R. R. Pogoy 3-of-7 and R. R. Garcia 2-of-5 from downtown.

Ginebra coach Tim Cone’s gamble on a short rotation didn’t pay off. In Game 4, five Ginebra mainstays logged at least 30 minutes with Justin Brownlee playing 45:12 while TNT only had three players with at least 30. Racela went to a deeper rotation and gradually, wore down Ginebra. He started Ryan Reyes and Kris Rosales with Castro in a three-guard formation that set a fiery tone for the game. It was the first start for Reyes and Rosales in the semifinals.

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In the series, four Ginebra players averaged at least 30 minutes and six at least 25. For TNT, not a single player averaged at least 30 minutes and only two at least 25. Racela distributed minutes more evenly to pace his players and keep them fresh for the fourth period, realizing every game could go down to the wire. In Game 1, TNT won by only six and in Game 2, the margin was four. Ginebra took Game 3 in a blowout by 24 but TNT bounced back to clinch it in Game 4 behind a torrid fourth period fightback.

Anthony Semerad’s addition to the TNT lineup was a huge boost. Before the semifinals, Brownlee averaged 29.2 points with seven of 12 games where he scored at least 30. But in the semifinals, Brownlee’s clip fell to 25.5 with Semerad given the primary responsibility to defend him. On offense, Semerad didn’t do too badly. In Game 2, he shot 14 points and wound up averaging a respectable 7.0 points with a 40 percent clip from beyond the arc.

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Another timely acquisition was R. R. Garcia who came in after TNT played seven games in the eliminations. Garcia averaged 12 points and shot 40.9 percent from three-point range in the semifinals. Garcia played for Racela at FEU so their reunion was a long time coming. Before joining TNT, Garcia went from GlobalPort to Barako Bull to Phoenix to Star and to San Miguel. Now, he’s found a home with the KaTropa.

Ginebra could’ve used 7-foot Greg Slaughter against TNT but Cone decided to keep him in cold storage until the third conference where the Barangay is the defending champion. Brownlee was the shortest import in the Commissioner’s Cup at 6-4 5/8 and Aguilar tried to compensate by playing more inside than outside with Slaughter still out of commission. The problem was Cone’s big rotation was limited compared to TNT’s, even with Smith playing sparse minutes. Kelly Williams, Mo Tautuaa, Ranidel de Ocampo, Troy Rosario, Smith and Semerad gave Racela a lot of options to match up against Aguilar or Brownlee.

The good news for Ginebra is Brownlee will be back for the Governors Cup and he’ll be his usual dominant self because the height limit for imports is 6-5. The PBA has removed the option of teams recruiting an Asian import but may recall it in the future if studies justify a return. Slaughter will surely play and Ginebra’s rotation will be deeper as a result.

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