Finishing stronger
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star) - November 22, 2020 - 12:00am

The storyline was similar in both Games 2 of the PBA Philippine Cup semifinals in the Clark bubble last Friday. In the Ginebra-Meralco series, LA Tenorio was red-hot with 11 points in the first quarter but joined Scottie Thompson, Stanley Pringle and Arvin Tolentino in the scoreless column in the fourth as the Bolts stormed back from an eight-point halftime deficit to win, 95-77. In the Phoenix-TNT series, RayRay Parks erupted for 20 points in the opening period then sputtered with three in the fourth as the Super LPG Fuel Masters mounted a spirited rally to take a 110-103 verdict.

So the lesson is it’s not so much about starting strong but more about finishing stronger. Ginebra, for instance, tallied 27 points in the first period but was held to the exact same output in the entire second half with Meralco avenging its 17-point setback in Game 1.

Bolts coach Norman Black got the job done in Game 2 on both ends but more than the Xs and Os, he said it was the team’s desire that delivered the victory. “We played with a lot more energy in Game 2,” he said. “It was the desire not to go down 0-2. Even in the first half when Ginebra was playing great and making their shots, I could see we were playing hard. It was a good bounce-back game but it will mean nothing if we don’t follow it up in Game 3.” In Game 1, only Allein Maliksi and Chris Newsome scored in double figures for Meralco. In Game 2, six Bolts were in twin digits and it would’ve been seven if Reynel Hugnatan scored one more point. Meralco blanked Ginebra in fastbreak points, 15-0, had more turnover points, 21-3 and dominated the interior with more rebounds, 53-44 and paint points, 44-26. Raymond Almazan had his second start of the conference and first in the last 11 games as he collected 11 points and 11 boards to stand up to Japeth Aguilar.

Ginebra coach Tim Cone conceded that “Meralco beat us in all phases of the game, most especially in the second half … we know we’ll shoot better but more importantly, we need to shore up the rest of our game.” Putting the ball in the hole seemed too easy for Ginebra in the early going and it could’ve set in a false sense of security that Meralco gnawed at bit by bit.

“They’ve gotten the better of us in recent years and the path ahead is tough against Ginebra,” said Black. “There’s a reason why we keep meeting them in the playoffs and that’s because they’ve been consistently good in the past years. Besides being well-coached by coach Tim and displaying impressive teamwork, individually, they’re also talented. Major concerns are the production of Pringle, the versatility of Scottie, the inside presence of Japeth and the leadership and outside shooting of LA. As I’ve said before, this is the best All-Filipino unit I’ve coached at Meralco so we’re showing up to compete and to win.” Regarding his rookie son Aaron, Black said it’s “a good experience in his very first year as he’s battling very experienced players …this series is a real challenge for him because the opposing guards are experienced and good.” Black added that his wife Benji is “really happy for Aaron but she wants us home as we’ve been gone for two months.” Black, however, said they’re not in a rush to go home because there’s still a Finals to play.

In the Phoenix-TNT series, Parks went berserk with 41 points but the Fuel Masters still won Game 2 by seven. Justin Chua rebounded from 0-of-10 field goals in Game 1 to score 18 points in Game 2 and Calvin Abueva stayed out of foul trouble to compile 20 points, 15 rebounds and four assists.  While Parks sizzled, Phoenix clamped down on RR Pogoy and Jayson Castro who were a combined 36 points on 10-of-29 field goals (34.5 percent) in Game 1 but dropped to 22 points on 7-of-25 field goals (28 percent) in Game 2.

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