Coach Tim Cone couldn’t help but call Aljon Mariano the “tough guy” Ginebra needed when push comes to shove.
Cone had nothing but praises for Mariano’s effort in Ginebra’s Game 2 win over the TNT Tropang Giga, 92-90, in the Philippine Cup Finals at the Angeles University Foundation Sports and Cultural Center.
The Ginebra forward posted 20 points on a 7-of-11 shooting clip to go with nine rebounds and an assist in almost 31 minutes of play to earn the Player of the Game honor.
While Scottie Thompson’s dagger corner three and Stanley Pringle’s offense proved to be pivotal in the payoff period, it was Mariano who stepped on the pedal at the second half to give the much-needed boost for the error-plagued Kings.
“As much as LA [Tenorio] and Stan and Scottie did the thing down the stretch, AJ’s contribution — Aljon — his contribution was just exceptional,” said the 62-year-old Ginebra mentor in a post-game press conference.
“He played with the toughness that we needed tonight. We really needed someone to step up and make the tough plays and be a physical presence out there.”
Despite the win, Cone wasn’t particularly happy with the way Ginebra played, especially after committing 21 turnovers compared to TNT’s 14.
Mariano, for his part, tried to exploit some openings under the paint and helped the Kings tally 26, just a few points away from the Tropang Giga’s 32.
“Noong half time, sabi namin we need to focus on making stops. Nag-respond naman ‘yung mga players and maganda naman ‘yung nangyari. Maganda ‘yung outcome noong nakahabol kami,” said Mariano, who scored 10 of his 20 points in the third period.
During Game 1 last Nov. 29, Mariano wasn’t that efficient offensively, scoring only six points in almost 22 minutes. But the former University of Santo Tomas standout put the effort defensively and grabbed eight rebounds and a steal.
“Coming to the game pa lang kasi parang sa past games parang medyo masama ‘yung laro ko. I want to be more aggressive on both sides of the floor,” added the Ginebra forward. “Mas nag-focus ako ngayon. Trabaho lang talaga, lumabas lang. ‘Yung points extra lang. Trabaho lang sa depensa, energy, hustle, lahat-lahat ng puwedeng gawin basta manalo kami.”
The 22-time PBA coach believes that Mariano, playing his fifth season in the league, still has a lot to bring at the table and hopes to carry on the same hard work in the next Finals games ahead.
“We weren’t playing with a lot of toughness tonight. We were really lacking toughness,” said Cone. “And Aljon just took over for us and he made big moves on his own, real strong moves that kinda lifted the whole team.
“I love that term — tough guy. He’s really a tough guy.”