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Keys to the kingdom

The stage is set for Game 1 of the PBA Governors Cup Finals between defending titlist Barangay Ginebra and challenger Meralco in Lucena tonight with the best-of-7 series expected to go the distance as both teams reprise their bitter battle a year ago.

For Ginebra, the goal is to retain the crown with coach Tim Cone seeking his 20th jewel and second with the Barangay. For Meralco, revenge is on the Bolts mind as coach Norman Black chases his 12th title and first after piloting TNT to the All-Filipino Cup in 2012-13. Ginebra beat Meralco, 4-2, in the previous Governors Cup Finals. Meralco has never claimed a trophy since joining the PBA in 2010-11 while Ginebra’s collection lists nine championships.

The rematch should be a humdinger. Both teams are clearly at the top of their game with Meralco leading the league in defense, giving up an average of 88.8 points, and Ginebra topping the standings in field goal shooting with a 46.1 percent clip. Overall, Meralco is 13-3, winning its last four outings and eight of its last nine. Ginebra is 12-4, winning its last two and four of its last five.

Here are the 10 keys that could unlock the door to the Governors Cup kingdom.

• Offense. When Ginebra’s on a hot streak, it’s difficult to stop because the crowd builds on the momentum. Ginebra is No. 1 in field goal percentage, No. 1 in assists and No. 1 in second chance points. In its 12 wins, Ginebra averaged 107.6 points and in four losses, 92.3. Meralco isn’t as prolific, ranking No. 7 in offense, but it’s No. 1 in three point percentage, No. 2 in free throw percentage and No. 2 in assists. Advantage: Ginebra.

• Defense. The Bolts thrive in a low-scoring contest. If Ginebra likes to shoot ‘em up, Meralco likes to slow it down. In 13 wins, Meralco gave up an average of 85.8 points with opponents limited to less than 80 in six games. In three losses, Meralco yielded an average of 101.7. The numbers indicate that Meralco’s chances to win are higher when the Bolts hold opponents to less than 90. Meralco is No. 1 in least assists, second chance points, turnover points and fastbreak points allowed. Ginebra, however, is no slouch on defense either – it’s No. 1 in field goal percentage allowed. Advantage: Meralco.

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• Tempo. Neither team is big in transition with Meralco ranking No 7 in fastbreak points at 12.6 and Ginebra No. 11 at 9.4. If Ginebra plays a three-guard lineup, that means Cone wants to trap, pressure, create turnovers and run. Meralco has its own version of small-ball but the Bolts would rather exploit their advantage in size in the wings and backcourt. Ginebra’s ability to score in high numbers will be a challenge for Meralco. Advantage: Ginebra.

• Rebounding. Ginebra’s frontcourt size is awesome with 7-foot Greg Slaughter and 6-9 Japeth Aguilar anchoring the middle. Justin Brownlee and Joe De Vance give Ginebra even more ceiling at three or four. Ginebra is No. 1 in rebounding and Meralco, No. 6. The team that’s able to control the boards gets first crack to dictate tempo. Advantage: Ginebra.

• Imports. Brownlee and Allen Durham are extremely capable. Durham is averaging 25.4 points, 20.1 rebounds and 6.8 assists while Brownlee’s stats are 24.6 points, 11.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists. The critical factor is who among the locals will step up to be an import stopper because you won’t see Brownlee and Durham go mano-a-mano until probably the last quarter. For Ginebra, De Vance, Kevin Ferrer and Sol Mercado could take turns shadowing Durham. For Meralco, it could be Cliff Hodge, Jared Dillinger, Ranidel de Ocampo or even Chris Newsome keeping in step with Brownlee. Advantage: Even.

• Experience. Ginebra’s average age is 30.4 years and Meralco’s is 28.9 so the difference is negligible. But in terms of experience, Ginebra has the edge with De Vance bringing seven championships along, Mark Caguioa five and L. A. Tenorio two. Dillinger and De Ocampo check in with a combined 11 titles. Ginebra will count on what it did to Meralco last year as a mental bonus looking forward. Advantage: Ginebra.

• Adjustments. The ability to adjust, particularly with regard to match-ups, is critical but the measure of success lies in the manpower ready to execute. Without the talent, not even the best-laid adjustments will work. Cone and Black are masters of the game. Their rotations are meant not only to disrupt but also to assert. Timing is essential in injecting game-changing elements to the contest and that’s where coaching instincts come into play. Advantage: Even.

• Depth. Whether it turns out to be a short or long series, depth will always be a factor. Five Ginebra players are averaging in double figure points compared to Meralco’s four. But nine Meralco players are averaging at least five points and Ginebra, only seven. Six Ginebra and seven Meralco players are logging at least 20 minutes a game. Advantage: Meralco.

• Teamwork. Trust is reflected in assists and both teams are high in this department with Ginebra No. 1 with 25.9 a game and Meralco No. 2 with 23.8. This stat is what makes the Finals a 50-50 proposition because Ginebra and Meralco play selflessly. Meralco’s ability to limit opponents to an average of 15.6 dimes a game, No. 1 in that department, will be put to a test. Advantage: Ginebra.

• Hunger. There probably isn’t a hungrier team in the league than Meralco, still without a championship to boast. Durham said he’s back to take care of unfinished business. Dillinger said he’s waited a year for the chance to avenge last season’s loss. The Bolts also want to win it for Meralco senior vice president and PBA governor Al Panlilio who’s recovering from illness. Advantage: Meralco.

In a short series, Ginebra has the edge because of the experience factor but in a long series, Meralco could win a war of attrition with a deeper rotation, younger legs and a stronger will to endure the challenge of survival.

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