Lightning nearly struck Ginebra
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - January 9, 2020 - 12:00am

As expected, Game 1 of the PBA Governors Cup finals between Barangay Ginebra and Meralco went down to the wire at the Smart Araneta Coliseum last Tuesday. Both teams battled to draw first blood in the best-of-7 series and the outcome was decided only in the last minute. Ginebra came out on top, 91-87, and needed a 5-0 surge in the homestretch to seal it.

Meralco almost struck down Ginebra with a lightning bolt. Coach Norman Black’s charges were up at the end of the first half and third quarter but couldn’t hold on. The Bolts led most of the way, 28:13 minutes to be exact while Ginebra was on top 16:24 minutes. There were 17 lead changes and seven ties. Meralco opened a 10-point advantage, 61-51, in the third period after a 14-2 surge, powered by a triple each from Allen Durham, Raymond Almazan and Chris Newsome.

Two departments where Meralco had the edge were rebounds and assists. The Bolts had more boards, 54-45 and more dimes, 19-16. Entering the finals, Ginebra was No. 1 in the league in assists at 27.6 and in field goal percentage at .487. Meralco made it difficult for Ginebra to move the ball around, staying home on defense, with Justin Brownlee and Greg Slaughter finishing without an assist. 

But Ginebra compensated for the deficiencies with less turnovers, more turnover points, more blocked shots and a higher field goal percentage. Ginebra had nine miscues to Meralco’s 11, scored more turnover points, 19-8 and shot at a higher clip from the floor, .442 to .384. In Meralco’s five-game semis series against TNT, the Bolts held the KaTropa to .349 from the field and 85 points in their three wins. In contrast, TNT shot .439 from the floor and scored an average of 102 points in the Bolts’ two losses. Meralco’s chances to win are much higher when the Bolts hold opponents to less than 90 points and lower than 40 percent marksmanship. Last Tuesday, Ginebra scored 91 points and hit .442 from the floor.

LA Tenorio’s role with Ginebra was magnified when he left the court with four personals, time down to 10:40 in the third quarter and Meralco up, 41-39. The Bolts took advantage of his absence to build a pair of 10-point leads, the last at 63-53, before LA checked back in with 2:59 left in the period and Meralco ahead, 65-58.

Tenorio played without relief the entire fourth period and presided in Ginebra’s 12-2 spurt to open the quarter. That burst pushed Meralco out of the driver’s seat as Ginebra went up, 80-73. But the Bolts refused to roll over and die. They stormed back with a 6-0 run to trim the gap to one then another 6-0 explosion brought Meralco back in the lead, 85-84. With 1:22 to go, Durham sank a pair of charities as the Bolts remained on top, 87-86. Then, Newsome was called for a travel and Brownlee buried two free throws to make it 88-87 for Ginebra, time down to 33.3 seconds. Bong Quinto missed a triple, Stanley Pringle shot one of two from the line and Japeth Aguilar preserved the win by blocking Durham. Brownlee closed out the scoring with two more free throws.

All throughout the contest, defensive matchup adjustments were made as the opposing coaches played a chess match. When LA shot two in a row early in the fourth, Meralco coach Norman Black put Allein Maliksi then Quinto on Tenorio. When Newsome got hot, Brownlee slid over to defend him. Aguilar was on Durham at the start then Brownlee took over. Ginebra coach Tim Cone used a big lineup with Joe De Vance playing three then in the fourth, went with Slaughter and Aguilar together to wrap things up.

Pringle was a marked man as Newsome and Quinto took turns shadowing him. He had difficulty penetrating Meralco’s switching defense and at least thrice, was left holding the ball to take shots from way out with the shot clock expiring. Pringle was -10 in efficiency for the contest while Slaughter topped Ginebra with +12, compiling eight points, eight boards and four blocks.

Ginebra’s Twin Towers combined for seven blocks. Aguilar took Best Player honors with 16 points, including eight in the fourth quarter, six rebounds and three blocks in 33:49 minutes. Five Ginebra players logged at least 30 minutes compared to four from Meralco, meaning Cone went with a shorter rotation.

Both Durham and Brownlee failed to score a single field goal in the fourth. They were well-defended and also showed signs of fatigue. In the third quarter, Brownlee shot 18 points and Durham, 13 so their batteries began to sputter in the fourth. Meralco missed Maliksi’s outside sniping as he went 0-of-4 from deep. Maliksi, Quinto, Amer and Cliff Hodge were a combined 3-of-23 from the field or 13 percent.

If Brownlee didn’t carry Ginebra on his shoulders in the third, Meralco could’ve broken loose and opened a huge cushion entering the fourth. Almazan and Newsome wound up with 44 points together to back up Durham’s 25 but Meralco will need a stronger showing from Amer, Quinto, Hodge and Maliksi to put Ginebra on the backfoot. The war is far from over. The battle has just begun.

GINEBRA MERALCO
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