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Perimeter a key zone in Finals

MANILA, Philippines — The opposing coaches in the PBA Governors Cup Finals agree that the perimeter is a sacred zone where if Meralco is able to hit from the outside consistently, the Bolts could run away with the trophy. But if Barangay Ginebra puts the shackles on Meralco’s riflemen, it could be the other way around.

“No doubt, our bigs will have to extend to the perimeter in this series,” said Ginebra coach Tim Cone. “Meralco’s leading the league in three-point field goal percentage so we’ll have to work hard to get back in transition and locate their shooters.”

Cone said when Ginebra beat Meralco, 4-2, in the Governors Cup Finals last season, the Bolts played without Jared Dillinger, Mike Tolomia and Ranidel de Ocampo. Dillinger was out with a hamstring injury, Tolomia hadn’t turned pro and De Ocampo was still with TNT. Now, the three are prominent figures in Meralco coach Norman Black’s rotation. Another perimeter gunner Garvo Lanete hadn’t crossed over from NLEX.

“Tolomia, who can shoot it, has taken the place of Jimmy (Alapag) and along with Dillinger, brings a lot of perimeter play,” said Cone. “Plus, De Ocampo has always been a big-shot maker in big moments and he’s really the premier big man shooter in the league. All three of those guys add incredible depth and versatility to their lineup.”

Another cause for Cone’s concern is Meralco’s rebounding ability. “They’re the No. 1 rebounding team in the league in terms of rebounding margin,” he said. “They do a great job of using their quickness to get to the boards. Then, they have (Allen) Durham who simply is a beast to guard and keep off the boards. They’re formidable.”

Black said he’ll lean heavily on Dillinger and De Ocampo to make a difference. “They’re helping the overall performance of the team,” said Black. “They’re both floor spacers so they should also help open up the floor for AD (Durham). They’re good defenders so they fit right into our personality as a team. It helps that they have championship experience and have been through many Finals wars.” Dillinger has won five titles and De Ocampo, six – all with TNT.

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Black said a priority for Meralco is to control the defensive boards. “We must limit their second chance points to have a good chance of winning the crown,” he said. “We must also shoot well from the perimeter because they protect the paint well with their size.” Ginebra is No. 1 in second chance points, averaging 17.6 points, but Meralco is No. 1 in least second chance points allowed with 10.1.

Black said tempo isn’t a big deal with Meralco. “I’m not really concerned about the tempo of the game because we’ve proved that we can win games in the 80s or the 100-point range,” he said. Meralco, however, has made more of an impact on defense as in its 12 wins leading to the Finals, the Bolts gave up an average of only 85.8 points but in three losses, the norm went up to 101.7. Offensively, Meralco averaged 98.8 points in 12 wins and 97.3 in three setbacks. In contrast, Ginebra hit at a 107.6 clip in 12 wins but only 92.3 in four defeats. So the apparent trend shows that Ginebra wins with offense and Meralco with defense.

Ironically, in the battle to control the perimeter, Meralco must dominate offensively and Ginebra must counteract defensively despite their contrasting orientation. It’s one of the intriguing ironies of the series and why the Finals are a 50-50 proposition because anything can happen with both cerebral coaches making unpredictable adjustments along the way.

Black, 59, has won 11 PBA titles with three different franchises and five UAAP crowns with Ateneo. He hasn’t claimed a trophy since steering TNT to the All-Filipino Cup in 2012-13 and Meralco hasn’t bagged a championship since joining the league in 2010-11.

“It’s always special to be in the Finals because you’re never sure when you’ll enter,” said Black. “My feeling is everyone wants to win for the Meralco community and (Meralco senior vice president/PBA governor/SBP president) Al Panlilio especially as this would be the first championship for the Bolts in the PBA.”

Cone, 59, is the winningest coach in PBA history with 19 championships. He’s a two-time Grand Slam championship coach with San Mig Coffee in 21013-14 and Alaska in 1996 while Black captured a Grand Slam with San Miguel Beer in 1989. Cone’s last championship came in the previous Governors Cup and he’s determined to retain the crown.

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