Against an enemy that has enviable depth, Barangay Ginebra turned to its championship experience and put together a masterclass on both ends to move on the cusp of Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) history.
The Gin Kings are now a win away from winning a truly extraordinary Philippine Cup, and coach Tim Cone has his “old geezers,” particularly LA Tenorio, to thank.
“You can’t count out experience, you can’t count experience in the [title] playoffs,” Cone said on the heels of Ginebra’s 98-88 Game 4 conquest of TNT on Sunday night at Angeles University Foundation powered by Smart 5G where the Gin Kings took a 3-1 lead.
Tenorio put the Gin Kings on his back, finishing with a team-best 22 points, six assists, three steals, while highlighting his massive performance by engaging the Tropang Giga’s Roger Pogoy in a shootout down the stretch.
There was no secret to Tenorio’s sensational performance. Though he did admit there was a bit of a tweak with the way he and his teammates approached the contest: Ginebra simply wanted to bare its teeth.“We had to be aggressive,” he told reporters on the way to his hotel room. “The last game, we were playing to protect the lead. We were not playing to win.
“In this series, it is our experience which is really our advantage,” Tenorio said. “We have players who really played a lot of championship games like Joe [Devance], Jeff [Chan], Jared [Dillinger].”
Devance and Dillinger started for the crowd darlings for the first time here, and that was something Cone thought would nullify TNT’s dependence on Troy Rosario, who in the previous contest came through for the Tropang Giga.
“We had a definitive game plan coming in with those guys,” Cone said. “We were making jokes about it, they said it’s going to be the ‘geezers lineup.’” They average about 35 years old in that lineup.
“It was obvious, [how] we wanted to keep [Troy] from trying to pin us down to the basket like he did in Game 3,” Cone explained.
Devance and Dillinger, who have a combined 16 PBA titles, accounted for eight and seven points, respectively—with most coming in the middle two quarters where the Kings established their character.
Ginebra scooted ahead by as many as 17 points, just the right buffer that it needed to blunt Pogoy’s 34-point performance—and a string of three triples heading into the waning minutes that narrowed the gap to just three and gave the Tropang Giga a legitimate chance to pull it out.
By then, Tenorio had already saved enough energy to unload haymakers himself: back-to-back triples and a jumper to swing the lead back to 10 with under a minute left to play.
“That’s our composure,” Tenorio said of his team’s calmness toward the end. “I have to also [commend] Joe and Jared. They started the game and they played really well.
“They don’t get to play that much but whenever they’re needed, they’re ready,” he added. “That’s the experience [we take pride in]. We have veterans, leaders who are really big for this team.”
“It could be harder to respond. It’s easier to make shots, it’s harder to respond. But that’s what LA did—two huge responses from the three-point line. That kind of took the sails out of TNT,” Cone said of his foremost playmaker, who seems to be peaking just as some have begun sputtering inside an extended stay in the bubble.
Tenorio, who had an appendectomy just two weeks before he entered the PBA’s self-contained zone here in Clark Freeport, averaged 6.6 points and 4.1 assists in the eliminations. Through four games in this championship series, the pint-sized guard cranked those norms up to 14.5 and 6.2 and is a prime candidate for Finals MVP.
TNT, meanwhile, has found itself walking on thinner ice after losing Jayson Castro early in the third period on Sunday. The club’s fleet-footed star aggravated a left knee injury and wasn’t able to return.
And there was Tropang Giga coach Bong Ravena ruing his charges’ effort on the floor: “I don’t know if maybe we were tired or what, but we were like a step behind Ginebra.”
Castro joins two-way guard Ray Parks Jr. (calf strain) at the end of TNT’s bench, both listed as day-to-day by team officials and reducing the Tropang Giga’s main guns to just Pogoy, Rosario and Poy Erram, whose admirable showing throughout these Finals has been eclipsed by the team’s three losses.
But the Tropang Giga aren’t throwing the towel—and they’re not expected to, anyway.
“It’s not yet over,” Ravena said. “Ginebra still needs to win one more game. We just have to show that we want it more than them. That’s our situation right now. We have to play through it, as our backs are against the wall. We just have to put all out on the floor.”
“We’re still hopeful,” Pogoy said. “I know we’re going to fight it out to the end of the series.” INQ
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