Keys to Victory: Ginebra-Meralco Finals series
Can we call it a rivalry now?
For the second year, Ginebra and Meralco meet anew in what promises to be a slam-bang clash for the 2017 PBA Governors’ Cup championship.
Last time these two met, fans were treated to six tightly-contested affairs–which were settled by five points or less and which ended in an Justin Brownlee’s buzzer-beater three that gave Ginebra the crown.
A year after, the Bolts and the Kings— with same faces and new additions in their line ups—are ready for war again and it would be interesting to see how different things turn out this time.
Here are INQUIRER’s keys to victory for this best-of-seven series.
Coaching chess match
It’s easy to assume that series going down as offense-versus-defense, given the Gin Kings’ high-octane style against the Bolts’ grindhouse system.
After all, Ginebra’s been averaging 103.7 points per game versus Meralco’s 98.19, but the Bolts are only allowing opponents to 89.8 markers per outing against the Gin Kings’ 98.8.
But looking past that gives us a meeting of the minds as two of the most decorated and highly respected mentors in the league today engage in a coaching chess match.
Tim Cone, seeking for ring no. 20, and Norman Black, who’s in search for his ninth title, square off anew for only the second time in the championship stage, with the first, of course, being last year’s duel.
It’s going to be a battle of adjustments and creativity with both coaches known to stick to a system. With both sides evenly matched, Cone and Black would have to figure out a way to gain the slightest advantage in what promises to be a series to go the distance.
Great wall of Ginebra
As if Ginebra’s small-ball tactic last season wasn’t dangerous enough, Cone unearthed a scheme opposite of that with the return of Greg Slaughter.
With the Cebuano giant back in the fray, the Gin Kings have toyed with their roster and at times, unleashed a killer frontcourt five with a guard joining Slaughter, Japeth Aguilar, Justin Brownlee, and Joe Devance on the hard court.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, too, that Ginebra is second in the league in rebounds with 55.19 boards per game and first in blocks with 7.75 rejections per outing.
Expect the Gin Kings to make the most of their strength and pound the ball down low.
Bombs away Bolts
How do you counter that size advantage? Meralco’s way is drawing those bigs to the outside.
The Bolts have capitalized on the power of the three-ball, topping the league with their 37-percent clip, much to Black’s delight.
Baser Amer, Jared Dillinger, and Reynel Hugnatan have been fearless in hoisting those long balls, but Meralco’s arsenal just got deeper with the additions of Ranidel de Ocampo, Garvo Lanete, and Mike Tolomia, all of whom are ready to light it up once their hands wax hot.
Now the biggest challenge for the Bolts is consistency in making their shots.
All the small things
What makes Ginebra’s league second-best offense work is its efficiency on the floor with its 46.10-percent shooting.
Going 50.25-percent from two and 34.87-percent from three, the Gin Kings have been making the most of their shots.
But with a series likely to decided on a couple of points, every basket matters, and that’s Ginebra’s achilles heel. The Gin Kings are the league’s worst free throw shooting team, going 64.29-percent from the charity stripe despite hoisting a league-high 434 free throw attempts.
Meralco, on the other hand, have been diligent in capitalizing on those free points, going 73.02-percent from the 15-foot line to pair with its 44.68-percent field goal shooting.
While a freethrow may just be a point, in a series expected to be down the wire at all times, these small things matter the most for each team.
The sixth man
It’s been well-documented how the raucous crowd influence Ginebra games in the past.
The Gin Kings have admitted how the audience have helped them get out of danger, while players from the other side also bared being a bit rattled by the rowdy crowd.
And with Game 1 set at Quezon Convention Center in Lucena, as well as Games 5, 6, and 7, if necessary, scheduled at Philippine Arena in Bocaue, expect the troves of ka-barangays to come out and support their team.
However, Meralco import Allen Durham shared that after his team’s runner-up finish last year, the Bolts are more than ready to tune that noise out.
“The crowd is not going to be a factor,” he confidently said.
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