First to the Finals

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star
First to the Finals
Barangay Ginebra in huddle during Game 5 of the PBA Philippine Cup Finals
PBA Images

Barangay Ginebra is back in the PBA Governors’ Cup Finals and awaits the winner of the TNT-Meralco semifinal series to finalize the pairing of the best-of-seven championship duel that begins on April 9, Easter Sunday. Coach Tim Cone has made it almost a habit to book a ticket to the Governors’ Cup Finals as it’s his fifth trip dating back to the 2015-16 season. Cone’s collection of 25 trophies includes 10 from the Governors’ Cup – four with Ginebra, two with San Mig Coffee and four with Alaska.

Resident import Justin Brownlee has been at the forefront of Cone’s four Governors’ Cup triumphs. He’s now won six championships overall with Ginebra and playing in his 10th conference. If Ginebra bags this Governors’ Cup title, Brownlee will become the winningest import in PBA history, breaking a tie with Sean Chambers. Brownlee, 34, has four Governors’ Cup and two Commissioner’s Cup championships under his belt. He’s a three-time Best Import awardee and a hot candidate to claim a fourth citation this conference.

Cone, 65, is in his 89th conference and 34th season as a PBA head coach. With Ginebra, he’s in his seventh season and 18th conference. Ginebra has captured seven of its 15 titles with Cone. In total, Cone has won 1,025 of 1,754 games or a success rate of 58.4 percent. Since joining Ginebra in 2015, Cone has posted a record of 215 wins in 335 contests or a success rate of 64.1 percent, his highest with a franchise in his career. His rate was 56.8 percent with Alaska and 58.7 percent with San Mig Coffee/B-Meg. Thanks to PBA statistics chief Fidel Mangonon for the numbers.

Last Wednesday, Cone engineered an improbable comeback from 18 points down as Ginebra trimmed San Miguel Beer, 87-85, to close out their semifinal battle. It was Ginebra’s first-ever sweep in 25 best-of-five series. Sitting on a 2-0 cushion, Ginebra could afford to lose Game 3 with two more chances to clinch. San Miguel, on the other hand, had to win three in a row to make it to the Last Dance. From the onset, the Beermen played with a sense of urgency since it was do-or-die after all. Coach Jorge Gallent tweaked his opening lineup with Chris Ross and Mo Tautuaa making their first appearance as starters this conference.

Entering the fourth period, San Miguel was up by 12 and with 4:10 left, by seven. Then, Ginebra detonated a 10-0 bomb before Marcio Lassiter hit a triple to tie it, 85-all, with 26 ticks to go. From a timeout, Cone opted to inbound from the endline to avail of the full 24-second clock. To inbound from quartercourt and advance the ball would’ve cut down the clock to 14 seconds and given a chance for a final San Miguel possession with lots of time left. Brownlee took control of the ball and as he crossed the timeline, waved off Standhardinger from the strong to the weak side. He put a move on Cameron Clark then attacked as three Beermen collapsed to stop his drive. Tautuaa helped out and left Standhardinger open for a pass from Brownlee. Standhardinger sank a layup unmolested with three seconds left. San Miguel called time and Lassiter got off a two-point shot at the buzzer but missed. Cone commended Brownlee for not just making crucial shots but also making crucial plays. Brownlee’s mid-range jumper opened an 85-82 Ginebra lead with 39 seconds remaining.

Game 3 had the trimmings of a San Miguel win. The Beermen led over 70 percent of the way, forced Ginebra to 24 turnovers and held Standhardinger, averaging 32.5 points in the semis, to two points at the half. When the smoke cleared, San Miguel had scored more turnover points, 30-9, registered more steals, 13-6 and buried more triples, 11-9. Brownlee was limited to 22 points, his lowest in the playoffs this conference. But Ginebra dominated the boards, 65-38 and it made a difference with June Mar Fajardo, averaging 14.3 points and 12.8 rebounds, out of commission. Ginebra gutted out the win behind its Never Say Die spirit.

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