Long, difficult road to Ginebra title defense begins with KO duel vs Phoenix
Barangay Ginebra has been left with quite the torturous climb in its defense of the PBA Philippine Cup, a thousand-mile journey that looks daunting if not for the fact that the Gin Kings often thrive in near-impossible situations.
Never say die, after all, is baked into the team’s DNA
“But it starts with one step,” Ginebra coach Tim Cone told the Inquirer on Friday. “That step starts tomorrow with our game in Phoenix.”
So far, being the defending champion and having a stacked roster hasn’t panned out that well for the Gin Kings this season, where they were expected to be among those waiting for results in the bottom end of the standings to figure out their playoff plans.
Instead, they are fighting for life, battling a dangerous Phoenix squad in a must-see television classic on Saturday at Don Honorio Ventura State University in Bacolor, Pampanga.
“The guys know that the road is tough, and has been tough,” Cone said.
The Kings were nearly sideswiped from that road, in fact. Facing a rolling Meralco squad on a mission, Ginebra found itself at the nasty end of a 79-66 beating that shoved it to a 4-7 (win-loss) record, tied with two other teams.
But the Kings were rescued by Robert Bolick, whose 22 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists for NorthPort in a 122-94 rout of Alaska ensured that Ginebra would be in the right three-team logjam so it would emerge one of two squads with better quotients and earn a miss-and-go-home shot at the playoffs.
The Gin Kings and the Fuel Masters will thus slug it out for the No. 8 seed at 4:30 p.m. with the defending champions seeking to regain their old, lethal form to get their title retention bid back on track.
The odds would’ve easily favored Ginebra, as they prevailed over Phoenix in their elimination round meeting where the Gin Kings clawed back from 19 down to hammer out a 94-87 victory over the Fuel Masters.
But Cone will have to squeeze more from new guy Christian Standhardinger, and last season’s finest guard duo in LA Tenorio and Stanley Pringle to pull this one out. He may even have to reach deeper in his bench as Scottie Thompson and Japeth Aguilar remain doubtful for the contest.
Thompson, Ginebra’s do-it-all guard, has been placed under the league’s health and safety protocols; while Aguilar, the club’s high-leaping defensive anchor, is sidelined by a knee strain.
That leaves Cone hoping that a day’s break is enough to prepare his team for the battle’s demands.
The prize for the winner isn’t exactly mouth-watering: that team advances to the first round of the playoffs against the rock-solid elimination round topnotcher TNT. And the Tropang Giga will be protected by the twice-to-beat bonus.
Still, it is an opportunity to play another day.
“We have been given an unexpected reprieve, so we want to do our best and take advantage of it,” he said.
Phoenix coach Topex Robinson is also out to make sure the Fuel Masters make the most of the opportunity handed to them.
“We will just make sure that we will give our very best and focus on the things that we have control of,” he told the Inquirer also on Friday.
The crowd darlings would’ve not been in this perilous spot had they not lost two winnable games against cellar habitué Terrafirma and an Alaska squad coming off isolation.
Phoenix, would’ve placed comfortably in the race as well. But time and time again, Robinson said, the new composition of his team has become a heavy load for the Fuel Masters.
The lone match at the PBA’s temporary home in Bacolor town is shaping up as edge-of-seat basketball not only for what’s at stake, as it also pits Pringle and Matthew Wright, two of the league’s most exciting scorers. Another interesting matchup is of Standhardinger and Phoenix’s Jason Perkins, two bruising big men who loves a good scrap underneath the basket.
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