Third quarter storm
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - January 19, 2020 - 12:00am

In the PBA Governors Cup finals that ended last Friday, Barangay Ginebra ruled the third quarter throughout the five-game series. Ginebra came back from halftime deficits in Games 1, 2 and 5 so whatever Tim Cone said in the lockerroom during the break had a telling effect.

Ginebra’s third quarter storm was particularly furious in the Game 5 clincher at the MOA Arena. Meralco was up, 46-40, at the turn then Ginebra retaliated with a scorching 30-18 blast in the third period to start the last 12 minutes in the driver’s seat, 70-64. The Bolts, however, refused to go away quietly and tied the count, 77-77 with 8:46 to go. But Ginebra wouldn’t be denied its third Governors Cup championship under Cone and held on to win, 105-93.

Only in Games 1 and 2 did Ginebra enter the fourth quarter trailing. Clearly, Ginebra owned the third period of the series. In Game 1, Ginebra outscored Meralco, 31-30, in the third quarter. In Game 2, it was 30-19, in Game 3, 35-16, in Game 4, 28-24. Here’s how Ginebra’s key players averaged in the third quarter of the finals – Justin Brownlee 8.4 points, Stanley Pringle 7.6, Japeth Aguilar 4.8, L. A. Tenorio 4, Greg Slaughter 3 and Scottie Thompson 1.8. 

More than offense, Ginebra relied on its defense to capture the crown. Before the finals, Ginebra made its mark as an offense-oriented team, ranking No. 1 in assists (27.8), No. 1 in points in the paint (50.9), No. 1 in field goal percentage (.487), No. 1 in three-point field goal percentage (.384) and No. 3 in points scored (105.3). In its 11 wins entering the finals, Ginebra averaged 109.9 points and held opponents to 95.6.

Meralco, in contrast, advanced to the finals playing stingy defense. In its 12 wins before the finals, the Bolts held opponents to an average of 86.3 points. In five losses, opponents averaged 101.6. So it was clear what coach Norman Black’s focus was – limit opponents to less than 90 and it’s almost a sure win.

But in the finals, Cone turned things around. In Ginebra’s four wins, Meralco coughed up only 84 points. Ginebra took Meralco’s winning formula and used it to take out the Bolts. With Raymond Almazan playing only 6:05 minutes in Game 3 and sitting out Game 5, it became easier for Ginebra to lock down on Allen Durham. Almazan’s loss left Meralco without a lengthy roller or popper off picks, a rim protector and a floor spacer to give Durham room to operate inside.

Durham’s job was a lot tougher than his Ginebra counterpart Justin Brownlee’s. Durham had to do it all, particularly when Almazan went down. He scored, rebounded and was Brownlee’s primary defender. Brownlee didn’t need to do as much because he had lots of help from teammates. Brownlee preserved his energy for offense with Aljon Mariano taking on Durham in a matchup that only made sense after examining the stat sheets.

In Game 5, Durham compiled 29 points, 21 rebounds and eight assists in a no-relief job while Brownlee finished with 24 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists in 43:29. Three other Ginebra players shot 14 or more compared to only one from Meralco. Before the finals, Durham averaged a PBA career-high 30.9 points and hit 51.3 percent from the floor. In the finals, he slumped to an average of 23.8 and never scored 30 or more, shooting 42.2 percent.

Teamwork on both ends did it for Ginebra. In Game 5, Ginebra had 12 assists in the first half but ended up with 33 to Meralco’s 23. In the last three contests which Ginebra swept, Cone’s squad averaged 26 dimes and Meralco, 17. On defense, Ginebra employed switches and even went to a box-and-one to shadow Durham. It was difficult for Durham to establish low post position in a box-and-one because the defense pushed him out of the block. In isolations, whenever Durham got away from his defender to move inside, Aguilar provided help to shut the door. On ball screens, Ginebra didn’t mind switching to keep Durham from getting a step ahead.

Almazan’s absence was a huge loss for Meralco. It affected the Bolts’ mindset and Ginebra took advantage to focus on Meralco’s shooters defensively with one less man to cover. Allein Maliksi knocked down only 1-of-17 triples in the series and Bong Quinto, who shot 48.8 percent from deep before the finals, struggled with 20 percent on 3-of-15. Durham tried to pick up the slack but it drained him. Brownlee, on the other hand, had back-up support and even if he didn’t submit numbers like Durham, it didn’t matter. For Brownlee, the championship was the ultimate prize.

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