Staying on mountaintops
Barangay Ginebra won a seventh straight game and barged into the Final Four of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup Wednesday night as the Gin Kings continue to be the hottest team in the tournament.
Coach Tim Cone, though, believes that it’s both a blessing and a curse and knows that his job has just gotten tougher.
“We’re through (to the semifinals), and that’s the good news,” Cone said after sweeping Meralco with a 104-90 win in their best-of-three quarterfinal series at Smart Araneta Coliseum in Cubao. “But at some point, you have to come down off the mountain. We’ll see how we can stay on that mountain.”
Defending champion San Miguel Beer followed sister team Ginebra in the Final Four after withstanding a tough TNT KaTropa stand, 106-102, in the nightcap for a similar sweep that set the Beermen up for an interesting best-of-three clash with Alaska.
Renaldo Balkman scored 25 points and four others tossed in twin digits for the Beermen, who will be clashing with the Aces in a series for the first time since the famous “Beer-acle” of the 2016 Philippine Cup where they roared back from a 0-3 deficit in the best-of-seven series to win the title.
The Kings, who started the tournament 1-5 before turning things around, await the winner of the Rain or Shine-GlobalPort quarterfinal matchup that will be decided on Thursday at Mall of Asia Arena, and though their best-of-five series won’t start earlier than Saturday, Cone said there’ll be no rest for his intrepid bunch.
“When you have momentum that’s when you need to go at it really hard,” Cone explained. “You don’t take days off; you take it (streak) for as long as you can.”
Justin Brownlee has been the common denominator to the Kings’ success in the last two seasons and Meralco has been on the bitter end of that Ginebra run, with the Bolts now losing the last three series that they have played against the Kings, counting the last two Governors’ Cup Finals.
“He’s the energizer bunny of this team,” Cone said of Brownlee, who tossed in 36 points that went with nine assists and six rebounds.
Arinze Onuaku had 21 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Bolts, who drew 17 points from Chris Newsome, 11 from Baser Amer and 10 from the veteran Reynel Hugnatan.
But Meralco couldn’t sustain a hot start and spent the final two quarters trying to come back from an 18-point deficit.
Cone practically admitted that his Kings are now at the peak of their game and said that there are a lot of factors that could make his crew lose focus at this critical point in the tournament.
“The more you win the less you focus,” explained the two-time Grand Slam winner. “I thought we didn’t practice well (on Tuesday) for the first time (since the winning streak began) and they heard it from me. When that happens, you start tumbling off the mountain.”
The knockout clash between the Elasto Painters and the Batang Pier happens at 7 p.m., with top-seeded Rain or Shine trying to avoid the ignominy of losing a twice-to-beat advantage for the second time in franchise history.
GlobalPort, on the other hand, will be seeking a followup to a 114-113 win on Tuesday when Jonathan Grey hit the marginal triple from deep right corner with 11 seconds remaining before the Painters muffed three good attempts to turn the result around.
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