By Jonas Terrado
Tim Cone offered congratulatory words to Japeth Aguilar after Barangay Ginebra San Miguel escaped with a 91-87 victory over Meralco in Game 1 of a PBA Governors’ Cup Finals opener that may not be too pleasing to the eyes but had plenty of drama in the end.
“Hell of a block,” Cone told Aguilar, who arrived in the middle of the postgame interview inside the Smart Araneta Coliseum press room. “Wow, game-saving. Awesome.”
Aguilar had just saved Ginebra from being forced into overtime, blocking Allen Durham’s drive in the dying seconds. The defensive play capped off the needed contributions from the locals, who in the first three quarters struggled to piggyback Justin Brownlee’s offensive outburst.
“It’s just one win,” Aguilar told his coach.
“Yeah, just one win,” Cone responded. “But that was a big one. Big block for us.”
Ginebra was forced to play Meralco’s slow tempo right from the onset, resulting in a 10-point deficit in the third and long faces from most of the 10,708 fans at the Big Dome.
Brownlee kept Ginebra as close as possible with mid-range and three-point shots, giving him 34 points through three quarters while none of his teammates in double figures.
“Kaya naman nandito sa amin si Justin kasi yun ang dapat na ginagawa niya for us,” said LA Tenorio. “But again, we cannot rely for the whole series on Justin doing that every game.”
Tenorio and Aguilar may have figured out what to do late in the third when they helped trim Ginebra’s deficit from 61-51 to 71-68 entering the fourth.
Flashing the form that enabled him to win three Finals Most Valuable Player awards, Tenorio scored six in the final 12 minutes, converted through layups at a difficult degree. Aguilar made half of his 16 points in the same period before coming through with the block on Durham.
“I think that’s just what’s expected out of them,” said Brownlee, who wound up with 38 points after scoring his last four from the foul line. “I think if those guys continue to be aggressive and read the defense and take the opportunity, I think they’re gonna be great all series long.
“Both of those players got a great skill set. Japeth is very athletic. LA can drive and shoot and set the team up, you know, that what’s expected of them to play well.”
What’s expected from Tenorio, Aguilar and the rest of the crew is to be more productive come Game 2 when the series shifts to the Quezon Convention Center in Lucena City for a chance at a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“Sana ma-sustain namin yung defensive energy. Kung di lang masustain, sana mahigitan pa namin,” said Aguilar.
“It’s a long series at yun ang mentality namin. We’re glad nakuha namin yung game na to. So for us, it’s just three more games.”
Cone, meanwhile, is bracing for the series to be a long, drawn-out affair the rest of the way.
“We kinda developed into a free-wheeling, more pass-happy, get-up-and-down-the-floor type of team. They slow the game down to a grind, and so it’s just really come down to each possession,” Cone said.
“Everything’s riding on one possession throughout the game. You feel like if you blow one possession, you might blow the game. So it’s really a possession-by-possession game, at this point.
“It’s not the way that we necessarily want to play, but they’re just so good at it that we are forced to play at that tempo. But hopefully as the series progresses, we can find the kind of rhythm we wanna play.”
For the meantime, Cone is pleased to be holding the 1-0 lead, regardless of how ugly it took.
“It wasn’t pretty, but it was exciting,” he said.