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Ginebra looks set for another title

True to its preseries hype, the first two games of the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel-Meralco best-of-seven showdown for the 2019 PBA Governors’ Cup championship were decided by a grand total of six points—the Gin Kings winning the opener, 91-87, and the Bolts equalizing with a 104-102 decision in Game 2.

Then the suspense was gone as Ginebra held on to prevail in Game 3 by eight at 92-84 after opening as big as a 23-point lead and Meralco faced the prospect of losing for good Raymond Almazan, who injured his left knee after an awkward landing off a missed layup halfway through the first quarter and was gone for the rest of the tie-breaking encounter on Sunday.

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Almazan, Meralco’s biggest and tallest local, was in so much pain he had to be carried to the locker room on the back of teammate Raymar Jose. He was later brought to Makati Medical Center for MRI tests to determine the extent of the injury, which Meralco coach Norman Black, a former player himself, later said was not a good sign.

With the 6-foot-8 Almazan now a doubtful starter in Game 4 set on Wednesday at Smart Araneta Coliseum, Black will also have to find ways of stopping Stanley Pringle, who seemed to have recovered his deadly touch after scoring only 10 points in his first ever championship stint in Game 1, and the late-game heroics of Japeth Aguilar and LA Tenorio.

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Pringle unloaded 17 of his 21 points in the third quarter to give Ginebra a 78-55 lead in Game 3 while Tenorio hit a three-pointer and Aguilar added a layup to secure the win after the Bolts had come dangerously close at 82-87 with barely two minutes left.

It was a credit to Meralco’s grit and hunger that the Bolts managed to remain a threat despite the loss of Almazan, who had scored a combined 39 points in the first two games while providing a strong inside presence as backup for Allen Durham.

But if he’s out of the series for good, then there’s no stopping the Gins from claiming a third championship in four meetings with the Bolts since 2016.

Until that disastrous landing by Almazan, the Bolts had looked more than a match for the Kings two days earlier in Lucena when they unloaded a franchise record 16 triples and led by 19 at 61-42 before settling for a two-point victory.

But Baser Amer, who paced the Meralco three-point onslaught with five, was held by Pringle to just six points in Game 3 and the rest of the unheralded quarter court shooters fired blanks. The Gins went on to take a 20-point lead going into the last quarter before the Bolts rallied to set the final score.

If it’s any consolation for the Bolts, Allein Malixi, a former Gilas Pilipinas mainstay who played for now Ginebra coach Tim Cone for the grand slam champion San Mig Coffee in the 2013-2014 season, scored his first two points in the title series for his new team midway in the last quarter of Game 3.

If Ginebra prevails again tomorrow, the Kings can shoot for the title at Mall of Asia Arena on Friday. If Meralco survives Game 4, Friday’s tie-breaker will be followed by a Game 6 on Jan. 19 at Philippine Arena with the possible Game 7 also set there on Jan. 22. INQ

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TAGS: GINEBRA, PBA
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