Clasico or Fantastico?

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

Barangay Ginebra is safely in the PBA Governors Cup Finals, waiting to find out which team, Meralco or Magnolia, will be on the opposite end when the title playoffs begin at the Smart Araneta Coliseum this Wednesday. The Bolts and Hotshots will dispute the second ticket to the Last Dance in a knockout showdown at the Big Dome tonight.

If Ginebra ends up facing Magnolia, it will be the two franchisesthird encounter in the Finals but first since the All-Filipino Cup in 1997 or 25 years ago. The first clash was in the All-Filipino Cup in 1988 when Ginebra, then known as Anejo Rum, beat Purefoods, 3-1, in the best-of-five finals. Robert Jaworski was Anejos playing coach. Then, in 1997, Purefoods defeated Ginebra, then known as Gordons Gin, 4-2 in the All-Filipino Finals. That also marked the Big Js final PBA season.

If Ginebra battles Magnolia, it will be their first finals to face off in a conference with imports and first in the post-Jaworski era. It will also be the first in finals history that the franchises will play as Ginebra and Magnolia against each other. A clash between Ginebra and Magnolia or whatever brands are designated by their franchise owners is called the Manila Clasico, loosely taken from El Clasico which is the title of a football match pitting rival clubs FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. In the Governors Cup elims, Magnolia crushed Ginebra, 117-94 with six Hotshots scoring in double figures. Ginebra scrambled to make it to the playoffs, eventually landing in sixth spot. Coach Tim Cones squad started off hot with a 3-0 record then slumped to four setbacks in a row before winding up the elims winning three of its last four. In contrast, Magnolia zoomed to a 6-0 start and finished No. 1 in the elims.

If Meralco wins over Magnolia tonight, it will be the Boltsfourth battle with Ginebra in the Governors Cup Finals. Theres no title for a Ginebra-Meralco duel but Fantastico would be fitting. Allen Durham was Meralcos import in the three finals where the Bolts bowed to Ginebra. Now, coach Norman Black has less of a physical import and more of a finesse type in Tony Bishop. Itll be interesting to watch Ginebra guard Nards Pinto go up against his former Meralco teammates.

No matter whom Ginebra plays, Cone may miss Japeth Aguilars services. He sat out the last three semis games against NLEX due to a calf strain and is listed day-to-day. Stanley Pringle is unavailable so Cones crippled crew has to make do with a core of four players logging about 40 minutes a game. In a long series, Ginebra will be hard-pressed to preserve its starters for the homestretch. The challenge will be for players like Jeff Chan, Pinto, Prince Caperal, Arvin Tolentino, Joe Devance and perhaps Aljon Mariano, if hes back healthy, to deliver quality minutes. Ginebras LA Tenorio said it wont be easy playing either team and hes careful not to wish for an opponent. “Walang mapili sa two teams kasi both are really tough defensively,” said Tenorio. “And day-to-day pa rin si Japeth so well see.”


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