Ginebra in survival mode

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

Barangay Ginebras back is against the wall and coach Tim Cone will try to lead his troops to fight another day when the defending PBA Philippine Cup champion takes on top-seeded TNT in a do-or-die quarterfinal game at the Don Honorio Ventura State University gym in Bacolor tonight. TNT enjoys a twice-to-beat advantage, its reward for finishing the elimination round on top of the 12-team heap, and has to beat Ginebra only once in two possible encounters to advance to the semis. If Ginebra loses tonight, there will be a new Philippine Cup titleholder this conference. If it wins, Cone gets one more chance to survive.

Japeth Aguilar has sat out Ginebras last four games and Scottie Thompson the last two. Somehow, Cone managed to beat Phoenix, 95-85, last Saturday in a knockout battle to clinch the eighth playoff slot without both mainstays whore averaging a combined 26.8 points, 14.8 rebounds and 66.3 minutes. To make up for their absence, four Ginebra players scored conference highsPrince Caperal 19, Jared Dillinger 13, Joe DeVance eight and Aljon Mariano eight. Its a possibility that Thompson or Aguilar or both will play tonight. But nothings sure until they step on the court.

Lack of depth is Ginebras problem. Five players are averaging at least 30 minutes, meaning Cone relies heavily on his nucleus. When TNT beat Ginebra, 88-67, in the elims, the Tropang Giga scored more bench points, 22-10. Because Cone leans on a short rotation, opponents like to run them to the ground. With coach Chot Reyes back in harness, TNT has been transformed into a frightening defense-oriented machine that pushes teams to their wits end, pressures, traps, destroys rhythm and forces tons of turnovers. Its no wonder TNT is No. 1 in steals (9.5), No. 1 in turnover points (22.7), No. 1 in opponentsturnovers (18.9), No. 1 in field goal percentage allowed (37.4) and No. 2 in points allowed (78.9). In the elims, TNT dominated Ginebra in turnover points, 27-12, and fastbreak points, 20-6, with less turnovers, 14-21. LA Tenorio and Stanley Pringle were held to a combined 5-of-28 field goal shooting or 17.9 percent. Ginebra lost by 21 even as Aguilar (18 points) and Thompson (13 points, seven rebounds, four assists) saw action.

Only Mikey Williams and R.R. Pogoy are averaging at least 30 minutes with TNT, indicating a more balanced distribution of playing time. Jayson Castro, for instance, hasnt started a single game as Reyes prefers to make him come off the bench to preserve his energy for critical stages. Pogoy and Troy Rosario are the only players whove started every game for TNT while Pringle, Christian Standhardinger and Tenorio are Cones consistent first-stringers. Ginebras vulnerability is reflected in the stats that belie its inability to play efficiently over a 48-minute stretchthe team is No. 1 in turnover points allowed (18.8), No. 1 in steals allowed (7.8), No. 1 in least turnover points (12.4), last in steals (4.7) and No. 2 in most turnovers (16.8).

Standhardingers arrival has been good and bad news for Ginebra. Hes averaging 14.3 points, 10.7 rebounds and 36.4 minutes so thats good news. But CStans basically a pick-and-roller. Hes not a back-to-the-basket type nor a master at playing the anchor in the triangle. Theres a reason why Cone sometimes plays DeVance and CStan together. DeVance is familiar with the triangle and can play five instead of CStan whos a natural four.

Cone pulled a rabbit out of his hat in engineering Ginebras win over Phoenix last Saturday. Hell need a lot more magic to beat TNT twice in a row for a seat in the semis and the chance to defend Ginebras crown. For TNT, beating Ginebra will be sweet revenge. In the Philippine Cup best-of-7 finals last year, Ginebra crushed TNT, 4-1. Reyes has since replaced Mark Dickel in the saddle, brought in super rookie Williams, reactivated Kelly Williams and turned his backcourt into a defensive menace.

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