The weakest part of Vernon Macklin’s game has always been his free throw shooting.
Not last night. Not when Barangay Ginebra’s PBA Commissioner’s Cup stint was on the line, and not when the Gin Kings were on the verge of completing another playoff comeback for the ages.
A 47 percent free throw shooter, Macklin sank two charities with 11.1 seconds left then blocked a shot later before Rain or Shine flubbed three clear attempts that sealed an 81-79 Ginebra victory for a Final Four seat before close to 13,000 fans at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Macklin’s heroics allowed Ginebra to wipe out the twice-to-beat advantage the Elasto Painters had coming into the series. Only eight times out of 66 had the feat been achieved and the Kings pulled it off without their biggest star, the injured Mark Caguioa.
“People say that’s the weakness of his game, but he gave us this win,” Ginebra coach Alfrancis Chua said of the key free throws. “I knew he could make it. I have been giving him that chance all conference long by not pulling him out of crucial moments of the game.”
Ginebra, which actually pulled off the caper for the third time, advanced against powerhouse Talk ‘N Text in a best-of-five semifinal series that could start as early as Friday.
“They underestimated us,” Chua said in an obvious jab at Rain or Shine and its coaching staff. “They didn’t anticipate the hearts of my players.”
Alaska, the tournament top seed which took care of its lower-ranked foe, Air21, right in its first outing last Friday, is awaiting the winner of the San Mig Coffee-Meralco best-of-three series.
The defending champion Mixers and the Bolts play their KO match tomorrow at 6:45 p.m. also at the Big Dome in Cubao.
GINEBRA 81—Macklin 24, Ellis 13, Raymundo 13, Baracael 10, Helterbrand 9, Hatfield 6, Urbiztondo 3, Tenorio 2, Taha 1.
RAIN OR SHINE 79—Tiu 15, Lee 14, Sundov 12, Cruz 10, Chan 9, Belga 5, Norwood 4, Matias 3, Arana 3, Rodriguez 2, Quinahan 2, Ibanes 0.
Quarters: 22-23, 44-41, 63-61, 81-79