With Finals slots at stake, Game 4 takes on different meanings
A victory in Game 4 of the PBA Philippine Cup on Wednesday would mean tickets to the final dance for two squads. But for the other half of the semifinal cast, it’s a fighting chance they will make the most of.
Barangay Ginebra and Phoenix are on the doorstep of making the Finals of this extraordinary tournament, but both Tim Cone and Topex Robinson are heading into their respective duels with guarded optimism.
“We’ve got to be more ready this time around,” the Gin Kings coach told reporters just after practice on Tuesday afternoon. “Physically, both teams were able to recover with the extra day between games, but that also gave [the Bolts] another day to work on adjustments.”
Ginebra took a 2-1 lead after a 91-84 victory in Game 3 last Sunday, one marred by an accusation heard on national TV: A heckler called out an official for what he deemed a rigged game.
Phoenix, meanwhile, moved to within a win of a franchise-first Finals appearance after a 92-89 win also on Sunday and for a potential game-clincher, the Fuel Masters have stopped making it about slaying dragons.
“As far as we’re concerned, we’re not about [playing] TNT,” Robinson told the Inquirer. “We still have plenty of work to do and that’s all we have control of.”
“We don’t want to put that much thought in [the game] since what has been working for us is thinking of staying longer here,” Robinson added.
Just two games before, Robinson had spoken of TNT as a dragon in front of his squad that the Fuel Masters have to deal with.
But with Phoenix—and Ginebra for that matter—just one misstep away from a dangerous anything-can-happen knockout match, a change of perspective would indeed be welcome.
Ginebra, in fact, has a recent memory to remind the team of how dearly it would pay if it merely goes through the motions against a wounded Meralco side.
The Gin Kings, who have transformed Meralco into their favorite whipping boys in the Governors’ Cup, were on the rough end of a 95-77 Game 2 blowout after manhandling the Bolts in Game 1.
“We have to make sure we don’t have a repeat of Game 2,” Cone said.
It’s the same for Meralco coach Norman Black, except for he wants no holdover from the Bolts’ performance in a different game.
“We just gotta play a lot better than we played the last game—offensively and defensively,” Black said.
“There’s not much to say. You have to win the game. It’s as simple as that,” the Bolts coach added during a chance encounter with reporters in the hotel’s lobby.
Phoenix, which could have already booked a Finals berth if not for key breaks that went against them in a 95-92 Game 1 loss, understands bad things happen when players begin looking outside of themselves.
“Every time we’re so focused on the other team, we tend to not get favorable results,” Robinson said, alluding to the loss where the Fuel Masters lost Matthew Wright to an ankle sprain midway through the first period and Calvin Abueva played limited minutes because of foul trouble.
Besides, no amount of looking at the other team will diminish the talent of TNT. With a core featuring national team standouts Ray Parks Jr., RR Pogoy, Jayson Castro, Troy Rosario and Poy Erram, the Tropang Giga know they can easily crush opponents.
“All we have to do is play harder, smarter. The past games have been winnable for us. While we were trailing most of the time, we were still able to catch up. In fact, we were able to take the lead at some point,” TNT coach Bong Ravena said in Filipino.
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