Break new ground
Barangay Ginebra coach Tim Cone has 22 Philippine Basketball Association crowns to his name. No one is close to catching up on that number. Barangay Ginebra has one of the more loaded rosters in the league, with Justin Brownlee, Japeth Aguilar, LA Tenorio, Stanley Pringle, Scottie Thompson and Greg Slaughter forming a formidable core. Very few squads can match that collection of talent.
And yet, after the Gin Kings had finished picking apart Governors’ Cup Finals foe Meralco with a masterful second half performance, their decorated coach admitted that breaks helped Barangay Ginebra finish the series in five games.
“You need those kinds of things to win a championship,” Cone said. “You need those little breaks to happen for you.”
The Kings may need some of those breaks to fall their way again when the next season begins.
As confetti rained down on Barangay Ginebra on Friday night and still without a full celebration to mark their latest title conquest, Tenorio approached Cone with the team’s next mission.
“He said ‘We got to win the All-Filipino. I haven’t won it yet.’ I think he’s going to get everybody keyed up to win,” revealed Cone, who is eyeing his first Philippine Cup title with the Kings.
That’s going to be a tough order. But so was winning the Governors’ Cup anyway. San Miguel Beer was riding the momentum of a Grand Slam buzz. NLEX was on a roll after slowly getting its roster to full health. KJ McDaniels and the TNT KaTropa were looking unbeatable. And to top it all, Cone had to split time between Ginebra and the national team for the 30th Southeast Asian Games, which he coached to the gold medal.
But along the way, the breaks began favoring Ginebra.
And it’s not just the big we-got-Stanley-Pringle kind of breaks.
“We got the break of Raymond Almazan getting injured, we had the break of NorthPort knocking off NLEX. There were a lot of little things that happened along the way. And we had also guys coming back from injuries at the right time,” Cone said.
A practice altercation blew up San Miguel Beer’s Grand Slam party. Meralco booted out McDaniels and the KaTropa. And that thing about coaching Gilas Pilipinas in the SEA Games? Cone had the luxury of inserting his key players into the national team roster.
“We had our starters involved in everyday practice and the games of the [SEA] Games. Our staff was involved [with the team]. To get through that and to turn around and be able to beat NorthPort in the semis? I think, in many ways, the schedules kind of favored us,” Cone said.
And even when Meralco proved a formidable foe, providing the kind of challenge that maybe TNT could not have presented, the Kings earned a key break when Almazan tore a knee ligament in the early goings of Game 3.
“Certainly, we faced a team that’s quite big and quite talented,” said Meralco coach Norman Black. “And without Raymond in the middle, we suffered. A lot of credit should go to Ginebra, took advantage of the situation.”
“We were competitive, but once he got hurt, everything changed. I’m not blaming it on Raymond wasn’t there, but that was a big factor,” he added.
“Sayang,” said Cone of Almazan. But he’s not sorry. Far from it.
“We fought badly for a championship. We’re not going to feel sorry for the other team. We just had to go out and take advantage of whatever we can. We had to look at it as an opportunity, that he was out and how we should take advantage of the fact that he was out,” Cone said.
Ginebra took advantage by unleashing athletic big man Aguilar on the Bolts on both ends of the floor. Aguilar finished the series averaging 17.4 points a game. He also was a nightmare for Meralco players driving to the hoop, swatting 3.4 shots a game. His biggest block came when he saved Game 1 for the Kings by thwarting Allen Durham’s potential game-tying shot. Aguilar also erupted in the fourth quarter of Game 5 as he slammed bucket after bucket to grease the Kings’ final and irreversible breakaway.
That preserved the heroics of Brownlee, who anchored a short 7-0 run in the third that allowed Ginebra to break free from what turned out to be the last deadlock of the series and take an 84-77 lead in a game when it fell behind by double digits in the first half.
Ginebra trimmed that deficit to six before the break and by the time the third quarter rolled around, the inevitability of what became a 105-93 triumph thickened the Mall of Asia Arena atmosphere.
“That little run [toward] the half, I thought, gave us a lift heading into the third. And that was the key,” Cone said.
Aguilar was named Finals MVP.
He will be in the thick of things anew when Cone and the Gin Kings attempt to loosen San Miguel Beer’s dynastic hold on the Philippine Cup.
“We’re certainly going to go for it,” Cone said in what seemed like a warning to the Beermen and the rest of the field.
“You know, we feel we have the tools. We’re going to have a substantial break. So we’ll be able to kind of recharge our batteries and get keyed up for the All-Filipino,” said Cone, who feels he has the roster to compete.
“There’s Stanley, there’s an anchor [in] Japeth and Greg. They take a step back usually when the imports come. But now is the time to step forward.”
He’s had time to survey the opposition already.
“There’s June Mar (Fajardo) for San Miguel, then there is TNT and their ability to beat you up and down the court and from the perimeter. NLEX is coming. So many teams that are getting better—NorthPort with (Christian) Stanhardinger and (Sean) Anthony over there. CJ Perez is around … and all these rookies coming in? Everybody’s getting better.”
“San Miguel has had an incredible monopoly on the All-Filipino in the last five years, and it’s well deserved. They are a special, special team,” he added. “We are all trying—all of us. It doesn’t matter who we are—[Magnolia], TNT, Columbian—we all want to get that that All-Filipino championship. That’s what they call the crown jewel of the three championships.”
“But you know, we hope that we can use this conference to gain momentum into the All-Filipino,” he said.
And maybe a few more breaks—like a big roster-defining trade or something—going their way.
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