Meralco D main Ginebra worry
More than its hunger for a title breakthrough, Meralco boasts of a key factor that should carry the Bolts through in their 2019 Governors’ Cup best-of-seven championship series against the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Gin Kings starting Tuesday at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Needing to beat the TNT KaTropa in the last two games of their best-of-five semifinal duel just before Christmas, the Bolts turned on the defensive magic that left their rivals starving for points and clinched a third championship showdown with the Kings in four years.
Meralco first tied TNT with a 95-83 win in Game 4 then delivered the clincher just as emphatically with an 89-78 victory three days after the Kings had nailed the first championship berth with a three-game sweep of the NorthPort Batang Pier following a fluke loss in their semifinal opener.
The sputtering finish was completely unexpected for a TNT team that had looked ready for a second straight finals stint with an explosive show in the eliminations that included a season-high output in a 135-107 rout of Blackwater last September.
But for Meralco diehards, the 78 points TNT managed in Game 5 was no cause for a surprise. The Bolts had also forced three teams to score below 80 points, which is a rarity in the import-reinforced tournament.
And one of those teams was Ginebra, which absorbed a 101-77 rout last Nov. 3. when Meralco import Allen Durham completely outplayed his Ginebra counterpart Justin Brownlee. The other Meralco hapless victims were Alaska (101-75) and Columbian Dyip (92-74).
It is unlikely, however, that the Kings would go down meekly in the title series with the Bolts, who have yet to win a title since they debuted in the 2010-2011 season. They averaged 121.7 points in ousting the Batang Pier, who were hampered in the semifinals by injuries to several players.
But Meralco’s defense is one aspect the Kings will have to solve to make it three-in-a-row over the Bolts, whom they beat for the title in six games in 2016 and in seven matches in 2017.
Some of the key defensive matchups this time will be Meralco’s Raymond Almazan against Ginebra’s Japeth Aguilar or Greg Slaughter, Ginebra’s Joe Devance against Meralco’s Allen Durham, Cliff Hodge of Meralco against Brownlee of Ginebra, Stanley Pringle of Ginebra against Chris Newsome of Meralco, and LA Tenorio of Ginebra against Baser Amer of Meralco.
Game 2 will be in Lucena on Jan. 10, with Araneta again hosting Games 3 and 4 on Jan. 12 and Jan. 15. If there’s a Game 5, it will be at Mall of Asia Arena on Jan. 17, with the possible Games 6 and 7 set at Philippine Arena on Jan. 19 and 22. INQ
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