Kings eye early end to Philippine Cup title series
Well-rested, having the edge in manpower and definitely driven to go home to their families, the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings take on a shorthanded TNT crew with the chance to close out a PBA Philippine Cup title series—many said was going the full seven-game route—in just five, while writing an end to a historic 45th season that just three months ago was more uncertain than when a vaccine for COVID-19 would come out.
Up three games-to-one and taking all the momentum they need going into Wednesday’s Game 5 at Angeles University Foundation, the Kings are heavily favored to end the Tropang Giga’s agony as TNT is expected to play a fourth straight game without Bobby Ray Parks Jr. and a first in this series without franchise player Jayson Castro because of leg injuries.
Ginebra coach Tim Cone, though, knows fairly well that they can’t take the Tropang Giga for granted.
“TNT is going to come out like wounded tigers,” Cone said on the eve of what could be his 23rd title in 35 Finals appearances that would extend his record as the winningest coach this league has ever seen. “It’s an organization with a lot of pride, so closing out this series will be incredibly difficult. We’ll need to earn it. They certainly won’t give it to us.”
And while Cone has practically an all-star cast at his disposal in trying to get the job done, TNT counterpart Bong Ravena is left trying to scrounge for the pieces that would work and extend their stay in the bubble.
“It has to be the next man up for us,” Ravena said as Parks is still listed as a game time decision because of a strained left calf aggravated in Game 1 and Castro suffering from bone spurs in the left knee sustained early in the third quarter of a 98-88 loss. “We need to find ways to have everyone contribute.
“Definitely, we have our backs against the wall.”
Ginebra’s last all-Filipino crown came with Jong Uichico calling the shots in 2007, and winning this one would guarantee that the franchise has won at least one title each year since the brilliant Cone took over.
And more than that, whoever comes out the champion here will certainly earn a place in the league’s history books as the most unique titleholders ever, with the PBA holding the tournament inside a very confined environment as the coronavirus shuttered all of sports in the country in the second week of March.
Coaching staff, players and utility personnel of these protagonists have been inside the bubble since the first week of October as some of the players have missed important family occasions and even the constant trips to their barbers.
Most of them truly believed that this series would go the full route, with no team holding a distinct advantage over the other on paper.
The Kings won the first two games coming from behind, lost Game 3 when they came out with a limp, and then flaunted complete command in Game 4 and quelled a fiery TNT rally in the fourth quarter that had the Tropang Giga coming within three points with under three minutes left.
It was an effort Cone described as their best in the bubble.
“Still it was hardly enough to beat TNT, that’s how good they are,” Cone said.
LA Tenorio can win Finals MVP with another great outing when Ginebra clinches the series. He bailed the Kings out in Game 4 with two critical three-pointers that helped keep the Tropang Giga at bay despite three straight triples from RR Pogoy.
Winning another game would give Ginebra its 13th title and would tie the Kings with the legendary Crispa Redmanizers on the all-time list.
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