The Meralco Bolts were certainly miffed the way their season ended last year.
So they spent the long road to a rematch against defending champions Barangay Ginebra Kings, putting vital new pieces in place that they hope will turn their fortunes around when the PBA Governors’ Cup Finals tip off on Friday.
“What we tried to do this year knowing that AD (Allen Durham) was coming back and we have a chance at winning this conference, we tried to bring in floor spacers,” said Meralco coach Norman Black.
Meralco’s latest addition was veteran power forward Ranidel De Ocampo, acquired from TNT KaTropa to give the Bolts a stretch big who could free up space for Durham underneath.
Before that, Meralco added young shooters like rookie Baser Amer, Mike Tolomia and Garvo Lanete.
“That’s something we didn’t have last year. These guys give AD more space in the floor to maneuver. Reynel Hugnatan was our best floor spacer back then,” said Black, bidding to clinch his 10th PBA crown.
“Our biggest improvement now is we can shoot the three, which was not there last year,” said Black.
The Bolts lost last year’s best-of-seven confrontation in six games even though they took the series opener, something that the defending champion Gin Kings want to reverse this time.
“You can dictate the series if you win Game 1. There’s comfortability of being ahead in the series because there’s always a sense of panic in being behind,” said Ginebra coach Tim Cone during Tuesday’s PBA Finals presser.
Cone feels he has his own game-changer in Greg Slaughter, who will be a new force for the Kings since he was out due to injury in last year’s Finals conquest of the Bolts.
“He changes the way teams approach us. They have to find matchups for him,” said Cone.
The winningest coach in the league with 19 titles said import Justin Brownlee, playmaker LA Tenorio and do-it-all guard Scottie Thomson will get more space to make plays with Slaughter around.
“That’s the problem Slaughter poses for other teams,” said Cone.
Meanwhile, San Miguel Beer’s June Mar Fajardo topped the race for Best Player of the Conference with 38.455 statistical points after leading the Governors’ Cup in rebounds (11.64 per game) and blocks (2.27 per game).
Trailing Fajardo, the league’s reigning MVP for three consecutive seasons, are Jayson Castro of TNT (33.56 SPs) and Slaughter (32.65 SPs).
In the contest for Best Import, Durham seemed headed to replicating his award last year with 58.875 SPs, followed by Brandon Brown of Phoenix (54.500 SPs) and Blackwater’s Henry Walker (54.100 SPs).