Denial was the name of the game for Barangay Ginebra in the PBA Finals Game 4 on Wednesday night at the Big Dome.
The Gin Kings wanted to deny the Bolts from turning to its freshly crowned best import, Allen Durham.
The crowd darlings also didn’t want their foes to get into an early groove.
Ginebra ticked all of those boxes en route to an emphatic 94-72 decision to move at the threshold of winning a third crown Governors’ Cup crown in four years.
“We kind of met their force and we were able to keep the game under control,” Ginebra coach Tim Cone told reporters. “It was 14-all and we didn’t let them get that big spurt in the first.”
“We were very methodical out there … breaking them down a bit on the offensive side,” he added. “We weren’t rushing, trying to get it all at once. We built a lead slowly and then kept it.”
It helped that Justin Brownlee embodied the kind of methodical breakaway the Gin Kings needed to build a 3-1 cushion in this championship series. Brownlee scored 15 of his total 27 in the second frame and by the time Durham got into a groove—after being held to just nine points in the entire first half—Brownlee and his teammates had ran too far away for the 21 points and 27 rebounds of the Bolts import to do any damage.
Cone needs to cash in on the same approach as he and the Kings go for the clincher at 7 p.m. on Friday at Mall of Asia Arena.
“We’re going to have to go out and try to make a statement early in Game 5,” he said. “You can’t give [the Bolts] the momentum and confidence that they’ll be searching for.”
Cone has every reason to be wary.
“I’ve lost a 3-1 lead before—to Ryan Gregorio and Purefoods. I’ll never forget that,” he said. “I’m well aware that a team can come back.“
The team he is coaching, in fact, blazed the trail of such comebacks to cement its copyright to the never-say-die label.
As dire as Meralco’s situation is, at least coach Norman Black knows where to start making adjustments.
“We got beat very, very badly … We couldn’t get back on defense, we couldn’t stop them in the half-court. As a coach, I’m a bit embarrassed, to be honest,” Black added, pointing to what he felt was an overall shoddy effort by his charges on the floor, most especially in the hustle stats.
Ginebra outplayed Meralco in shot contests and deflections, and collected 13 steals and seven blocks
against the Meralco’s nine and three.
It also didn’t help the Bolts’ cause that they only made three of their 26 tries from deep.
There was an even more blunt assessment from Durham: “We played like sh*t.”
Even then, Cone knows Meralco won’t just fold up, much as he wants it to.
“I would love it if [the series ends on Friday]. But you know, this team has shown a lot of character in the past when we played them,” Cone said of the squad his Kings have already beaten in two previous Governors’ Cup title showdowns.
“It will be silly for us to say that we think it’s going to be over.”
Stanley Pringle and Scottie Thompson will be equally needed, along with defensive anchor Japeth Aguilar, LA Tenorio and Greg Slaughter as the Gin Kings challenge a Bolts roster hobbling due to injury of Raymond Almazan.
The starting Meralco center tore a ligament in his left knee early in Game 3 but suited up in Game 4 nevertheless.
“Obviously, his injury has changed the complexion of the series,” Cone said of Almazan, who got through Game 4 on a diet of painkillers. “He showed a lot of courage out there playing, but I think we all knew that he was not nearly a hundred percent.”
Almazan finished with 12 points and nine rebounds in Game 4 but neither that, nor the inspiration his decision to suit up provided were enough to slow the Ginebra rampage.
Kinda gives Meralco a clue what it is up against when Barangay Ginebra tries to close out the series.
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