Strength in adversity
As NLEX coach Yeng Guiao had feared, Barangay Ginebra continued to play its best despite a hurting lineup in its pursuit of a second straight PBA title this season and a third consecutive Governors’ Cup championship.
Oozing with confidence after inflicting a first loss in six games on tournament revelation Blackwater, Guiao’s Road Warriors found the Gin Kings still too tough with Japeth Aguilar exchanging places with Joe De Vance in sick bay to spearhead a solid local support for the highly efficient Justin Brownlee.
The Kings, who played without the seven-footer Greg Slaughter for the third straight game along with three others, roared to a 106-92 rout of the Road Warriors on Friday and all but clinched a top four slot and a twice-to-beat bonus in the quarterfinals with a leading record of six wins against a lone defeat.
On Sunday night, the Kings improved further to 7-1 after stopping Meralco, 111-105.
Mark Caguioa provided the highlight for the win by hitting a jumper for a 106-86 Ginebra lead with a minute and 10 seconds left to become the 15th local to join the 10,000-point club.
The 2012 league Most Valuable Player, who will turn 39 on Nov. 19, finished with 16 points.
Blackwater, the lone conqueror of Ginebra so far with a 124-118 overtime decision last Sept. 21, also bounced back from the 106-124 NLEX loss with back-to-back wins—nipping Meralco, 94-91, on late three-pointers by Mac Belo and Paul Zamar on Friday and escaping with a 99-93 squeaker over Rain or Shine, also on Sunday, to occupy solo second at 6-1.
Phoenix, another surprise strong starter which Ginebra downed in Cagayan de Oro last week, remained in contention for a Top 4 finish at 5-2 with NLEX still not out of it at 4-3.
The race for the other four qualifiers that will need two wins to oust their respective rivals in the quarterfinals is just as exciting with the TNT KaTropa (4-4) and San Miguel Beer (2-4) running seventh and eighth in the single-round eliminations.
NorthPort finally hit the winner’s row in seven games with a come-from-behind 118-100 win over Columbian Dyip that became the first of four teams to bow out of contention at 0-8.
Meralco, back after placing fourth in the recent Fiba Asia Champion’s Cup in Thailand, is expected to improve on its 1-5 record. And experts expect Rain or Shine, winless in four games so far, to put up a winning run.
With the eliminations ending on Nov. 4, teams continue to look forward to the return of, among others, the injured/ailing June Mar Fajardo of SMB, Jayson Castro of TNT and Sonny Thoss of Alaska.
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