MANILA, Philippines—In the absence of its three key guys, trust the other players — the “hugot” as coach Alfrancis Chua puts it — to step up for Ginebra.
That was exactly what Elmer Espiritu and Robert Labagala did on Wednesday against Air21, knocking down the crucial buckets that helped the Kings continue riding a five-game winning streak after a 90-84 win.
“Without Kerby [Raymundo], Mark [Caguioa] and Rico [Maierhofer], it’s hard. Air21 play well. Their zone [defense] was clicking and we couldn’t make a basket from the outside,” said Chua after the game.
“But finally yung mga “hugot” like Espiritu and Lagabala [nag-step-up], tapos lahat ng players namin nag-co-contibute. It’s a very good sign.”
Down 79-76, the Kings turned to import Vernon Macklin to exploit Air21’s depleted front court as Mike Dunigan was fouled out.
But they also drew a key triple from Espiritu, and it was a good thing he was ready to take that shot.
“Sa practice naman kasi di naman kami nagrerelax, nag-eextra work pa rin ako lagi after,” Espiritu told INQUIRER.net. “Titinitira ko rin naman [yung mga tres], nagkataon pumasok.
Espiritu provided quality numbers for Ginebra with 10 points and six rebounds in 28 minutes in the absence of Maierhoffer and Raymundo.
“Siyempre thankful ako kasi binigyan ako ng chance, at mas dadagdagan ko pa hardwork. Ngayon importante pag nakita ka na, yung trust ni coach andyan. Dapat anytime na bunutin ako o hindi, ready pa din ako,” he said.
Labagala, meanwhile, added four points — all in the payoff period. He admits that Macklin’s presence has done a lot when it came to his confidence.
“Gusto ko lang maging aggressive ngayon kasi si Vern kasi lahat ng locals binibigyan nya ng kumpyansa,” Labagala also told INQUIRER.net. “Kaya nilaro ko lang yung laro ko. Basta open, nagiging confident lang ako,”
Macklin, who had 32 points, then set up Labagala underneath for a short stab, giving the Kings an 86-81 lead with 1:45 left to play.
“Malaking bagay talaga si Macklin, ibang klase sya,” said Labagala. “Atsaka maganda chemisty namin ngayon, sana magtuloy-tuloy na.”
Espiritu had the same explanation for Ginebra’s five-game winning streak after starting off a 0-4 this PBA Commissioner’s Cup– and it goes beyond Macklin’s monster stats.
“Nag-ge-gel na kami. Andun na yung chemisty. Maganda yung samahan sa practice. Dati kasi laging seryoso, yung pagka-relax wala,” he said. “Nung dumating si Vern, nakakikipagkulitan pa samin. Magandang sign para sa team.