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Finishing kick a KO

In the PBA Governors Cup Finals, it’s about starting strong and finishing stronger. The series opener has been the only blowout so far with Barangay Ginebra winning, 102-87, after leading in 45:42 of 48 minutes. The next four contests were settled in the fourth period with late bursts.

Meralco was up, 75-69, with 5:56 to go in the fourth quarter of Game 2 then collapsed in a heap as Ginebra went on a 17-1 rampage to win, 86-76. In Game 3, it was Meralco’s turn to roll late in the payoff period. Ginebra led, 77-75 then the Bolts detonated an 11-0 bomb before claiming a 94-81 decision. In Game 4, Meralco did the same thing with a 7-2 closer to prevail, 85-83, as Allen Durham and Baser Amer conspired to trigger the flurry. In Game 5 last Sunday, Meralco closed in to cut what was once an 18-point deficit to four, 74-70, then Ginebra unloaded a 7-0 crippler to make it 81-70 with 4:31 left and breezed to win, 85-74.

Game 6 is set at the Philippine Arena tomorrow night and Game 7 in the same venue on Friday if Meralco extends the series. Game 5 was played at the Philippine Arena before a crowd of 36,445 – the second largest audience in the PBA since 52,612 to open the 2014-15 season also at the Bulacan site. If ever there’s a Game 7, it’s likely a new attendance record will be made.

With the last four encounters decided in the homestretch, it’s critical for both teams to rotate players in a way that reliables are preserved for the last push. If a key player is injured or in foul trouble, a team has to cope with a shorter rotation and that could be a problem. Depth becomes a vital issue.

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In Game 4, for example, Ginebra’s rotation took a hit when Japeth Aguilar got into early foul trouble and had to sit out a lot of minutes. Aguilar, who has started in 19 of 21 games this conference, logged 25:17 minutes in Game 1, 28:22 in Game 2 and 29:34 in Game 3 but played in only 19:36 in Game 4. He was scoreless in the first half and rallied in the second to collect seven points, his lowest output in the series. Aguilar picked up his third foul with 4:35 left in the first quarter. For a while, Ginebra coach Tim Cone deployed a big lineup with Aguilar, Greg Slaughter, Justin Brownlee, Joe DeVance and LA Tenorio. But with Aguilar on the bench, Cone had to adjust his rotation. For the first time in the series, Jervy Cruz and JayJay Helterbrand were tapped to see action.

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Meralco’s Allen Durham paced himself for a strong ending. He shot only six points in the first half then erupted for 22 in the second. In contrast, Brownlee went berserk in the first half with 17 points then hit 11 in the third quarter and only six in the fourth. 

Aguilar’s prolonged absence made it easier for Meralco to neutralize Ginebra’s size. In Game 1, Ginebra dominated the boards, 60-40. In Game 4, Ginebra had only a slight edge, 50-49 even as Meralco grabbed more offensive rebounds, 17-12, which led to extra possessions. Meralco wound up hitting 35-of-88 field goals to Ginebra’s 33-of-76 and the difference of 12 attempts was attributed to more possessions for the Bolts because they had more offensive boards, less turnovers and more steals.

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In Ginebra’s three wins, Meralco gave up an average of 91 points. But in the Bolts’ two wins, Ginebra averaged only 82. Up to the semifinals, Meralco stamped its class as the league’s No. 1 defensive team. The numbers indicate that the probability of Meralco winning a game is higher when it holds Ginebra to less than 85 points. 

Comparative stats in the Finals show that Meralco has won when it shot at least 35 percent from beyond the arc and lost when it hit less than 30 percent. The Bolts averaged 7.3 three-point makes in their three defeats and 9.5 in their two victories. Balanced offense is another critical factor as the team with more players in double figure points won in four of the five contests. Ginebra’s size advantage is evident in scoring more points in the paint in every outing. In Game 1, Ginebra had more inside points, 54-44 and in Game 2, 45-32. But the disparity was only two points in Game 3 and four in Game 4, both of which Meralco won because Ginebra couldn’t dominate the restricted area. In Game 5, Ginebra was back frolicking in the interior and it was magnified by scoring more points in the paint, 50-32.

Meralco’s back is now against the wall. With Ginebra up, 3-2, in the series, the Bolts must win two in a row to capture the crown while the Barangay gets two chances to win once for the title. Game 6 will be a do-or-die for Meralco tomorrow.

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