Barangay Ginebra shackles Wright and Phoenix, catches last bus to playoffs; faces No. 1 TNT next
The crown still rests on the heads of the Gin Kings.
For how much longer will depend on whether Barangay Ginebra can weave its never-say-die magic against a sharp-looking TNT, the PBA Philippine Cup’s current No. 1 squad which owns twice-to-beat protection in the first round of the playoffs.
It was less its ability to buck the odds that bought Ginebra the last ticket to the playoffs as it was its ability to play defense, holding down Phoenix top gun Matthew Wright to a frosty performance from the floor in a 95-85 victory on Saturday that breathed life into a title defense that has been hanging by a thread.
“We have a white board in the locker room and we had one name up there on the white board, only one name. We had other things we talked about, but we only had one name, and that name was Wright,” said Ginebra head coach Tim Cone after the game at Don Honorio Ventura State University in Bacolor, Pampanga. “He was obviously our target tonight.”
“We felt that they were going to have a great game tonight and it was going to come from him,” Cone added.
Gutting it out
The Kings held Wright to 14 points on 5-of-22 (.227) shooting from the field and their defense on him bled unto other key Fuel Masters: Big man Jason Perkins had 15 points on a shivery 5-of-14 performance (.357) as Phoenix shot a pedestrian 33 percent from the floor (32 of 96).
The defense was a result of what Cone described as a decision to gut it out instead of simply throwing the towel.
“We didn’t expect to be in this kind of game coming into this thing. We talked about it yesterday, before the game, that we can either walk away from this thing and quit or we could stand up, take responsibility and continue to fight,” Cone said. “There are only two choices. I give them credit, they chose the tougher one, which was to stand up and continue to fight.”
Starring for Ginebra was Prince Caperal, last season’s Most Improved Player, who led the Gin Kings’ scoring with 19 points. Jared Dillinger was just as crucial, adding 13 more to help plug the holes left by Japeth Aguilar (knee strain) and Scottie Thompson (health protocols).
They will need the same contributions from every part of their roster, especially with Aguilar tipped to be out for the rest of the playoffs and with no timetable still for Thompson’s return. And especially since beating the Tropang Giga will take more than just a decision to fight on.
“They’re extremely, extremely confident and they’re playing extremely good basketball. They’ve hardly been touched,” Cone said of TNT.
The Tropang Giga have lost just once in the tournament so far, an 83-67 rout at the hands of San Miguel Beer last Sept. 8. But coach Chot Reyes’ wards have rebounded strongly since that defeat, even crushing Ginebra, 88-67, two weeks ago, making them overwhelming favorites in their playoff matchup.
But what is a Ginebra title defense without seemingly insurmountable odds, right?
“We know our road is tough,” said Cone. “There’s no doubt about it. But our guys will battle.”
Stanley Pringle added 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists for Ginebra while Christian Standhardinger chipped in 15 points and 12 boards that made up for his seven turnovers. The Gin Kings took command in the second period, assembling an 18-8 run to seize a 49-38 lead heading into the break.
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