Ginebra’s unexpected exit
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - December 28, 2015 - 9:00am

After disposing of the Star Hotshots in a pulsating overtime win before 21,808 fans at the MOA Arena on Christmas Day, the forecast was it would be easy sailing for Barangay Ginebra to qualify for the semifinals of the PBA Philippine Cup. But the FIBA format of a knockout game in the second phase of the quarterfinals raised the possibility of an upset along the way.

Globalport was in Ginebra’s path to the Final Four and the Batang Pier surely couldn’t be discounted in a one-game knockout where the odds are 50-50. If Ginebra and Globalport met in a best-of-three or best-of-five series instead, the odds would’ve been different.

In the eliminations, Ginebra and Globalport finished with identical 7-4 records. The Barangay got a higher seeding, No. 4, by virtue of its 85-70 win over the Batang Pier last Nov. 25. Both Ginebra and No. 5 Globalport clinched a twice-to-beat advantage in the first phase of the quarterfinals. They didn’t need a second game to hurdle their opponents as Ginebra ousted the Hotshots, 92-89, in overtime and Globalport scuttled Barako Bull, 94-85.

Ginebra’s win over Star wasn’t only a thriller. It was one for the books. The Hotshots opened the fourth period with a 10-0 burst and extended their lead to 18. Midway the final quarter, not a few fans started to make a line for the exits. With a minute left, the lead was an imposing eight points. But Ginebra refused to quit. A faulty inbound by Rafi Reavis led to a turnover and a basket by Scottie Thompson to knot the count at 80-all with three ticks left. Then, another telegraphed inbound by Reavis was picked off and Sol Mercado could’ve sealed it in regulation but missed the layup.

In extension, the only points scored by both teams were from beyond the arc. The marginal bucket was delivered by L. A. Tenorio who hit it at the buzzer from a Mercado pass. Fans who had left the arena when all seemed lost for Ginebra in the fourth period tried to reenter but couldn’t. There’s a rule prohibiting re-entry so the impatient and disbelieving fans rued their early exit.

“I was outcoached,” said Ginebra coach Tim Cone, applauding his former assistant Jason Webb, now Star coach. “But the guys wouldn’t give up. I stopped coaching and they started hitting their shots.” As the fourth period wound down, the league’s leading scorer Greg Slaughter sat on the Ginebra bench. So did starter Mark Caguioa. Cone thought of resting the two players in anticipation of a Star rematch in two days.

Ginebra deployed Tenorio, Scottie Thompson, Mercado, Dave Marcelo and Aguilar to end the fourth period then brought back Slaughter in overtime. Although Ginebra is the league’s lowest three-point percentage team, the Barangay went to the long ball to finish off the Hotshots. Ginebra knocked down four triples to the Star’s three in extension to win it.

The win was Ginebra’s fourth in a row and seventh of the last eight so soothsayers figured the momentum would carry over to the semifinals. Globalport, however, wouldn’t oblige.

The Batang Pier had won five of its last six entering the Ginebra game last Sunday so coach Pido Jarencio’s squad was also on a roll. Globalport had no difficulty taking out dangerous Barako Bull and faced Ginebra without a tinge of intimidation. To prepare for the playoffs, Jarencio activated Mark Isip for more ceiling and Marvin Hayes for some hard-nosed defense.

Against Ginebra, Globalport played like an experienced squad. Jarencio started Billy Mamaril at center in place of Rico Maierhofer, realizing the veteran isn’t the type to back off from Slaughter. Doug Kramer kept his starting job alternating at four and five while Keith Jensen was the pick at three. The starting guards were Stanley Pringle and Terence Romeo, easily the most explosive backcourt tandem in the league today.

Globalport’s go-go offense was the perfect antidote to Ginebra’s slow-down game which exploits the size advantage of Slaughter and Aguilar. The Batang Pier attacked Aguilar’s defense quickly and like in the Hotshots game, he got into early foul trouble. Slaughter delivered his usual points but Globalport clamped down on his supporting cast. Chris Ellis went scoreless on 0-of-5 field goals and Caguioa struggled with 3-of-11 from the floor. Aguilar was held to only six points, more than 10 below his average. Worse, Ginebra committed 21 turnovers to Globalport’s 12 and the disparity led to more possessions for the Batang Pier which had eight more field goal attempts as a result. For Globalport, only Jay Washington had at least three turnovers while for Ginebra, four players were tagged with at least three miscues.

It could’ve been a case of overconfidence or exhaustion on Ginebra’s part. Ginebra gave up too many interior shots and even Mamaril’s banker to send it to overtime came from inside the paint. Pringle and Romeo didn’t only hit from the perimeter but also broke down Ginebra’s defense with penetrations. Pringle wound up with 25 points and Romeo, 23. Washington, Mamaril and Joseph Yeo – who all logged at least 30 minutes – backed them up with solid numbers.  The defensive energy that Ginebra showed in halting the Hotshots was missing against Globalport.

Cone’s debut conference with Ginebra couldn’t be bad. On a scale of 1 to 10, it was probably a 7 or 8. For a team trying to generate chemistry with a new coach, three rookies and three veteran recruits, falling a win shy of making it to the semifinals was an overachievement. Ginebra can only get better in the coming conferences.

As for Globalport, the future is now. The Batang Pier has made franchise history by barging into the semifinals. Locking horns with Alaska in a best-of-seven series won’t be easy but it would be crazy to underestimate Globalport.

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