Sweeter for Kings this time around
Barangay Ginebra opened defense of its Governors’ Cup title last July with a 93-78 rout from Meralco in a rematch of last year’s title duel and everybody thought the Gin Kings would need another miracle to extend their reign.
Meralco went on to rule the eliminations and swept Star to reach the finals even as Ginebra, true to expectations, needed a lot of scrambling to keep its title hopes alive. Then it was down to a Game 7 in their championship rematch after the Bolts, who lost last year’s showdown on a buzzer-beater by import Justin Brownlee in Game 6, forged another tie at 3-3 after a 0-2 start in the best-of-seven series.
The Bolts had momentum with their 98-91 Game 6 win, but the Kings just didn’t want to disappoint majority of their fans in the record crowd of 54,086 at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan, last Friday. Starting strongly as in their first two wins in the series (102-87 and 86-76), Ginebra roared ahead by 20 points late in the second quarter, 52-32, and clinched its first back-to-back title in the tournament with a 101-96 win.
It was the 20th title for coach Tim Cone, who was overwhelmed by Ginebra’s never-say-die feat before the huge crowd. “Amazing. That’s what makes it so special, to be able to do it in front of these fans, even the Meralco fans,” said Cone, who refused to shake hands with opposing mentor Norman Black when Meralco won Game 3, 94-81, because Black had sued for time when the Bolts already had the game won.
While Allen Durham again proved more than a match for Brownlee, the Best Import choice for the second straight year only had sporadic support from the Meralco locals. A classic example was Jared Dillinger, who finally caught fire with 20 points in Game 7, but was not an offensive factor earlier, scoring only 8, 5, 9, 2, 6 and 9 in the first six games.
Only when Reynel Hugnatan delivered as sub for the injured Ranidel de Ocamp starting in Game 3 that Meralco avoided what shaped up as a title romp for Ginebra, but the normally reliable Baser Amer, Chris Newsome and Garvo Lanete played inconsistently.
With the 7-foot Greg Slaughter back in harness after an injury and LA Tenorio, who was named Finals MVP, still the heady guard of old, Ginebra again looms as the biggest title threat for Philippine Cup champion and sister team San Miguel Beer when the Philippine Basketball Association’s new season starts on Dec. 17.
SMB beat Ginebra for the All-Filipino crown this season but the Kings went on to spoil the Beermen’s bid for a second grand slam since 1989—and the third for the SMC franchise after San Mig Coffee’s feat in 2014— by ousting them in their Governors’ Cup quarterfinal playoff, 104-84, last September.
It would have been more interesting had the Beermen, and not the Bolts, challenged the Kings for their title this time with another SMC grand slam on the line.
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