Kings open title defense vs vengeance-seeking Bolts
LUCENA—It’s going to be size versus versatility, great imports ranged against each other, brilliant Grand Slam-winning tacticians seeking to improve their legacies, and crowd-darlings going up against probably the most under-appreciated side in the PBA.
But no matter how one splices it, the best-of-seven series for the Governors’ Cup title promises to be the best one for the season, with Barangay Ginebra seeking to win a second title under Tim Cone without needing a last-second three-pointer to do it.
And after suffering the franchise’s bitterest defeat last season, Meralco feels that it has some unfinished business when it starts clashing with the Gin Kings in the 7 p.m. series opener at Quezon Convention Center here, as Norman Black tries to fulfill a goal of putting a winning tradition in the latest stop of his storied coaching career.
“It’s going to be tough, and it’s going to be rough,” Cone, a two-time Grand Slam champion, said of the season-closing title series where the Kings are expected to ride their advantage in size all the way against an opponent he described with so much respect.
“We couldn’t have picked a higher quality opponent,” Cone went on. “They have all the bases covered. That’s the challenge for us there. We are bigger, yes, but they also have the size and the balance. They can play the pace they want to play.”
Meralco topped the elimination round and swept a formidable Star crew in the Final Four, giving the Bolts three days more rest than the Kings.
But Black was quick to dismiss the extra rest as a factor in this long series, and has instilled in his charges that, after making the Finals last year and failing to forge a Game 7 after Justin Brownlee hit a three-pointer at the buzzer, only winning this one would complete their journey.
“We now have the experience,” said Black, who completed a Triple Crown sweep with San Miguel in 1989 and won titles with defunct Sta. Lucia and Talk ‘N Text before taking this job at Meralco. “The next goal for us is to win the championship (this time).”
Brownlee made that triple in the face of Allan Durham last year, and though the Meralco import has repeatedly said that it’s all behind him now, Durham said that memories of that painful loss still haunt him to this day.
“I’ve been trying to move on, but the media keep bringing that stuff up,” Durham had told reporters recently. “But none of that matters, last year doesn’t matter. I’ve forgotten about it, but it’s still fueling me to get the (series) win and hold the trophy.”
Ginebra has the 7-foot Greg Slaughter and 6-foot-9 leaper Japeth Aguilar manning the middle, but the Gin Kings will be facing a side that has improved a lot since last year, with the addition of Ranidel de Ocampo giving the Bolts a lot of championship experience.
“It will be tougher,” guard LA Tenorio said. “First, because they are highly motivated, No. 2 is because of the addition of Ranidel, third is (Chris) Newsome and Baser (Amer) have improved a lot and the last is because Durham is Durham.”
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