Brownlee reinstalls Kings as title favorites, himself as standard for other imports
The renewal of what has been a one-sided rivalry between Barangay Ginebra and Meralco was a tale of two imports that had one making a statement without even trying.
After a rare struggle last week that had coach Tim Cone labeling it as a “clunker,” Justin Brownlee stepped up like he has done so many times for the Gin Kings for the past six years that led the crowd darlings to a 99-91 win on Sunday in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup eliminations that gave the field that fearsome perspective once again.
Considering that it came just a few days after Ginebra inexplicably lost to Rain or Shine, that effort from Brownlee and the Kings was nothing short of a statement game against a team touted to be as formidable and an import of NBA pedigree which made a lot regard him as the best on paper.
“I told my wife that if you turn on the TV and you’ve never watched the PBA and watched Justin having one of the clunker games of his, you’d think ‘Why the heck he is on this league?” Cone said with a smile after Brownlee scored a good chunk of his 34 points in the fourth quarter. “How can he possibly be an import?’
Forgettable first game
“But you know he’s gonna bounce back,” Cone went on, referring from his import’s seven-for-25 clip in a 93-71 loss to the Elasto Painters. “His history is that he’s gonna bounce back and he’s just done that through the five, six years that he’s been here. So it wasn’t that disconcerting for us.”
And while Brownlee was impressive, Meralco counterpart Johnny O’Bryant didn’t do bad at all.
The veteran of three NBA teams has averaged a shade above 30 points that went with 19 rebounds and 4.5 steals in his first two games. Bad thing is, the Bolts have lost them both.
“I’m not saying that he’s not playing okay now, that’s not what I’m saying,” said Meralco coach Norman Black, who, before the conference began, touted the signing of O’Bryant as like “hitting a home run.”
“What I’m saying is that he has to do more because we’ve lost a key player,” added Black.
That player is Chris Newsome, who was forced to sit it out against Ginebra after suffering a strained calf in the first half of the Bolts’ incredible collapse against the NorthPort Batang Pier last Friday.
And for sure, Black is hoping to see a bounce-back performance from O’Bryant—like what Brownlee just did against the Bolts.
Johnny’s bounce back?
Meralco is up for a five-day break before facing lowly Terrafirma, and that could be the chance the Bolts and O’Bryant could maximize for redemption—even with Newsome out and O’Bryant seemingly trying to find his niche.
“We knew Justin would come out and be Justin. I think the moment you start to doubt Justin, I think you’re a little bit silly,” Cone declared.
“I just think you just got to keep with him and stay with him and he is going to deliver like he did tonight, like he did in the playoffs,” he added.
And for good measure, Cone reminded how Brownlee’s early struggles mirrored the last Governors’ Cup.
“I remember halfway through the last conference he was here, everyone was wondering, are we going to change Justin [with another import]? Does he need to be changed? And then we swept through a championship,” he shared.
“Beware if you doubt Justin.”