Magnolia, Meralco vie for finals spot opposite must-see Brownlee
Tim Cone made like a circus barker on Wednesday night. Come one, come all. Catch the spectacular main event. Limited run only.
The star of the show? Justin Brownlee.
“[T]ake advantage of it while you can,” the two-time Grand Slam mentor and current Barangay Ginebra coach said. “Come and see him. He’s not going to be here forever, but you’re going to be able to tell your family, your friends, your cousins—everybody that you watched Justin Brownlee play. And that’s going to be a special thing.”
The words spilled out of Cone’s mouth after Brownlee collected 47 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, three steals and three blocks in a 112-93 victory over NLEX that capped a 3-1 semifinal series victory and punched for the Gin Kings a ticket to the championship.
“Justin playing is the kind of thing that you’ll look back and, for me, I remember watching a game, going live and watching Billy Ray Bates play. As a young kid—and that’s still indelible in my mind—watching and being able to say ‘I was there with Billy Ray Bates,’” Cone said.
“This is the time, you watch Justin Brownlee, you’ll be able to say, ‘Hey, I watched Justin Brownlee.’ Just like, I watched Billy Ray Bates,” he added.
Brownlee’s performance for the ages means Barangay Ginebra will have a shot at defending its crown. And it has left Chris Newsome, the shifty two-way guard whose Meralco Bolts squad served as foe—and fodder—to the Gin Kings in many a Governors’ Cup finals showdown, green with envy.
“We saw them win before our game. Of course, whenever you see a team quickly book that ticket to the Finals, you get antsy. You want to be that next team,” he told the Inquirer on the heels of a 94-73 Game 4 loss to Magnolia at Smart Araneta Coliseum that same night.Now the Bolts will need to regroup if they are ever to get a shot at Brownlee and the Kings.
After all, they are up against the No. 1 seed of the tournament, Magnolia—also only team to have won a Governors’ Cup crown since Ginebra began relegating Meralco to runner-up status in the season-ending tournament.
The two teams clash at 6 p.m. on Friday at Smart Araneta Coliseum, with the winner slugging it out against Ginebra in the championship.
But facing the Kings is not the Bolts concern for now.
“You can’t think too far ahead,” said Newsome. “So we just got to stay in the moment.”
And in that moment, the Bolts know exactly what to do.
“[The Hotshots] displayed a lot of aggressiveness that we didn’t seem to display tonight. We’ve been doing a really good job of rebounding this conference and tonight we got dominated on the boards. Those are something we’re going to have to fix before Friday gets here,” Meralco coach Norman Black said on his way out of the venue on Wednesday.
“They played their hearts out. Their backs were against the wall. Any team in the position would do the same,” Newsome said. “They definitely showed it and we didn’t respond very well to the way they showed up.”Magnolia, meanwhile, looks to match its Game 4 showing.
“We expect a very physical game just like the four [games before],” said Hotshots coach Chito Victolero.
The prize for Friday’s winner is a shot at knocking the crown off the Kings’ heads.
Brownlee is on the threshold of overtaking Bates in the all-time scoring ladder.
Bates has amassed 4,523 points—fifth overall among imports. As things stand, Brownlee needs 158 more to pass Bates. If the finals goes the distance, Brownlee is expected to cement that milestone, adding to his growing legend and making him even more of a basketball spectacle that, as Cone said, is a must-see.