Game 4 may decide Finals

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - December 6, 2020 - 12:00am

Barangay Ginebra is up, 2-1, over TNT in the best-of-seven PBA Philippine Cup finals but its stay in the driver’s seat is far from safe. In every game of the series, TNT was ahead to start the fourth period and Ginebra’s two wins were escape acts. The only demolition so far came in Game 3 which the Tropang Giga took, 88-67, at the AUF gym last Friday. The 21-point massacre was the biggest win margin in the Finals since Game 3 of the 2018 Governors Cup where Alaska blasted Magnolia, 100-71.

Game 1 ended in OT with Ginebra winning, 100-94. But if Jayson Castro hit the jumper inside the lane with two seconds left in regulation, TNT would’ve bagged it. TNT led, 71-66, to open the fourth quarter and was in front for 24:15 minutes compared to Ginebra’s 21:47. To show the icebreaker could’ve gone either way, it had 21 lead changes and 15 ties. The contest was close even as Ginebra dominated the rebounds, 60-41, shot at a higher clip from the floor, 43.7 to 39.5 percent and had more paint points, 60-38, meaning it’s not likely TNT will be blown out in any game of the series.

Game 2 was another cliffhanger that TNT allowed to get away. Playing without Ray-Ray Parks, the Giga was ahead for 29:45 minutes and Ginebra, only 9:24. TNT’s biggest lead was 15 and Ginebra, five. There were nine lead changes and 10 ties. Down the stretch, Ginebra hit clutch baskets but with 15 ticks to go, R. R. Pogoy could’ve knotted the count with a triple. The final margin was two and would’ve been five if Simon Enciso didn’t bury a deep Hail Mary at the buzzer. This was another encounter that TNT could’ve won as the Giga had more fastbreak points, 14-7, more paint points, 32-26, more second chance points, 13-3, more turnover points, 22-18 and more steals, 10-6.

TNT made sure there wouldn’t be another slip-up in Game 3. It didn’t matter that Parks was still out of commission. The Giga got the job done defensively as Stanley Pringle, who averaged 29 points in the first two meetings, was held to 11. Five Giga players scored in double figures and Ginebra, only three. Ginebra was thrown out of synch with 23 turnovers, compared to TNT’s 14, and the Giga capitalized with 30 turnover points to the Barangay’s 17. For the first time in the series, Ginebra shot less than 40 percent from the floor, down to 35.4, and was outrebounded. It’s possible Ginebra didn’t push hard enough to avoid burning out and will come back stronger in a strategic one-step-backward-two-steps-forward ploy.

Ginebra is in a virtual must-win situation in Game 4 tonight. If coach Tim Cone’s charges take it, they’ll be up, 3-1 and it’s not likely TNT can win three in a row. If Ginebra loses, TNT will even the series and put the Barangay on its heels with momentum fueling the surge. Ginebra can’t afford to lose Game 4 because a setback will mean almost a kiss of death. That’s why tonight’s outcome could decide the Finals.

If TNT extends the series to six or seven, Ginebra will be hard-pressed to squeeze more juice out of its shorter rotation. Cone could use more production from Prince Caperal who’s averaging less than a point in the Finals and rookie Arvin Tolentino who went scoreless in Game 3 after impressing with 14 in Game 1. TNT rediscovered Troy Rosario’s value in Game 3 as he repeatedly manhandled Tolentino and Aljon Mariano at the post. Rosario, playing four, is the mismatch that is Giga’s potential game-changer. Unless Caperal steps up on both ends, Rosario will be tough to handle. TNT’s tendency to fall in love with the three could be its undoing. In Game 2, TNT shot 42 threes and only 36 twos and in Game 3, it was 43 threes and 41 twos. Gambling on a lower percentage outside shot is dangerous and Ginebra knows it.

GINEBRA TNT
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