Black’s antidote for Brownlee

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - January 12, 2020 - 12:00am

Ginebra guard Stanley Pringle’s nemesis Chris Newsome sat out nearly the entire third quarter in Game 2 of the PBA Governors Cup finals in Lucena last Friday and with his Meralco defender at the sidelines nursing four personals, Stan the Man erupted for 10 of his 23 points as coach Tim Cone’s squad battled back from a 17-point halftime deficit to tie it, 70-all.

Bolts coach Norman Black never panicked even as Ginebra went on a rampage. He kept Newsome on the bench, refusing to gamble by sending the former Ateneo star back in. Newsome picked up a foul in the first quarter, two in the second and his fourth in the third, prompting his recall with 11:26 left in the period. That took a lot of guts for Meralco to just grin and bear it.

As Newsome sat, Ginebra detonated a 9-0 bomb to knot the count. Then, Meralco went berserk from deep. The Bolts’ last four field goals in the third were all triples, two from Baser Amer and one each from Nico Salva and Bryan Faundo. The counterpunch was enough to keep Meralco in the driver’s seat, 82-76, to start the fourth. Newsome reported back to work with 7:06 remaining and shortly after, drained a three to end up with 17 points.

In Game 1 which Ginebra won, 91-87, at Araneta last Tuesday, Meralco shot a poor 21.9 percent from three-point distance. Allen Durham and Allein Maliksi were a combined 0-of-8. In all, the Bolts knocked down 7-of-32 compared to Ginebra’s 7-of-28. While both teams were even in triples, what made the difference was Ginebra shot 44.2 from the field overall and Meralco only 38.4.

Things were dramatically different in Game 2. Meralco buried 16-of-38 from rainbow land as seven Bolts connected on at least one. Amer broke out with 5-of-9 triples, including one in the fourth quarter that came from the parking lot. Durham atoned for his triple-less showing in Game 1 by hitting 3-of-5. Nards Pinto didn’t take a single shot in Game 1 but went 4-of-7 from deep to finish with 12 points in Game 2. Nico Salva sat out the opener then surfaced from nowhere to unleash nine points, including a booming three, in the third quarter of Game 2. Maliksi still couldn’t buy a triple but Black had more than enough ammo to compensate.

Ginebra’s gambit of using a big lineup to take away Meralco’s interior offense backfired as the Bolts found the range from outside. Meralco led 90 percent of the way in Game 2 but in the end, won by only two, 104-102. Ginebra kept it close despite Meralco’s hot perimeter shooting and the Bolts lead was down to only three, 87-84, time down to 7:42. Brownlee, playing with iron lungs, delivered 12 of his 35 points in the fourth period as he almost singlehandedly kept Ginebra afloat. Black, however, has found an antidote to make Brownlee less of an influencer.

Before the finals, Brownlee averaged 29 points, 13.6 rebounds and 7.2 assists. More than his points and rebounds, what made Brownlee such a dangerous operator was his ability to find the open man. Sometime in the eliminations, Brownlee averaged a triple double. But in Game 1 of the finals, Brownlee had only one assist and in Game 2, issued none. From an average of 7.2 dimes, Brownlee is down to 0.5 in the finals. It’s like Black is giving Brownlee his looks on offense and daring him to win for Ginebra by himself. Black is shutting down the passing lanes to force Ginebra to go one-on-one. Of course, it’s easier to play defense when you know who’s taking the shot and there is limited ball movement.

So it’s not a surprise that even as Ginebra started the finals leading the league in average assists (27.8), Meralco has brought the norm down to 18 in the finals. Meralco, in fact, doled out more assists in Game 1, 19-16 and in Game 2, 27-20. That’s because Brownlee is passing less even if he’s scoring more.

Ginebra badly missed the services of Jeff Chan and Jared Dillinger in Game 2 as both stayed in Manila to rehab their hamstrings. Meralco dominated the bench points, 29-12, as Black lengthened his rotation and found shining gems in Pinto, Salva, Anjo Caram and even Faundo. Raymond Almazan has been a consistent force for the Bolts, scoring 20 in Game 1 and 15 in Game 2. If he’s able to come close to Japeth Aguilar’s output in their matchup, Black couldn’t ask anything more from Rock ‘N’ Roll. 

Durham scored less in Game 2 than in Game 1 but got a lot of support from teammates. A. D. had a triple double in the opener and compiled 18 rebounds and six assists in Game 2 so he did his job. For Ginebra, the positive outlook is Meralco played exceptionally well in Game 2 and won by only two. It’s not likely the Bolts will shoot as well from the outside and get as much firepower from their relievers in the coming games so that’s a consoling thought for Ginebra. But unless coach Tim Cone finds a way to bring back Ginebra’s fluidity in executing its offense and Brownlee’s passing game, danger signals will keep flashing. How Cone will adjust in Game 3 at Araneta tonight should be interesting as both teams try to take the lead in the series from a deadlock.

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