Barangay Ginebra San Miguel reigned supreme after a two-month season that was anything but unusual, finishing off TNT, 82-78, Wednesday night to capture the PBA Philippine Cup crown at the Angeles University Foundation Sports and Cultural Center.
Japeth Aguilar tied his career-high with 32 points, Stanley Pringle bucked a cold shooting through the first three quarters by draining 10 of his 13 points in the fourth and Honda-PBA Press Corps Finals Most Valuable Player LA Tenorio maneuvered the Kings to the bubble championship.
The 4-1 series victory over TNT put Ginebra in a tie with the fabled Crispa franchise for fourth all-time with its 13th PBA championship while bagging the All-Filipino for the first time since 2007.
Jubilant Ginebra players raised the prestigious Jun Bernardino Perpetual Trophy in what could signal as a changing of the guard after San Miguel Beer lorded it over the PBA’s crowned jewel for the past five seasons.
But Ginebra had to do under different circumstances that saw the 45th season being put to a halt after the March 8 opener between SMB and Magnolia at the Smart Araneta Coliseum due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
PBA Commissioner Willie Marcial and the Board of Governors eventually decided on adopting the NBA’s successful bubble concept in order to finish the season which was shortened to a single conference.
Ginebra, already without Greg Slaughter who decided to leave for the United States in February, had to overcome the late bubble entries of Tenorio and Aguilar for various reasons by winning the first four games of the PBA restart that began in mid-October.
Back-to-back losses to Magnolia and Rain or Shine turned out to be a bump in the road as Ginebra ended the eliminations as the top seed with an 8-3 record, before sending Rain or Shine home with a quarterfinal victory.
The Kings nearly saw their campaign end in the semifinals against a familiar foe in the Meralco Bolts, but barely progressed to the championship round after Scottie Thompson’s last-second three in the deciding fifth game.
Ginebra took the first two games despite TNT having chances to do otherwise, lost by 21 in Game 3 before wrapping it up in the final two matches of the bubble.
“When this thing all started, when LA was coming from the hospital (appendectomy) and Japeth wasn’t here yet and we lost Greg Slaughter, we really didn’t have a lot of expectations for ourselves. We’re just thinking, ‘Can we make it to the Playoffs?,’” said Tim Cone, who won a record-extending 23rd PBA championship.
“Just great credit to all of these guys who just kept working and working. And they found a way to win and I’m so proud of them,” added Cone.
The Kings won despite a determined challenge by the Tropang Giga, who were without Ray Parks Jr. and Jayson Castro due to injuries. Parks missed his third straight game due to a calf strain while Castro had bone spurs on his left knee during Game 4.
TNT battled through RR Pogoy and Poy Erram during the contest that had six ties and 17 lead changes.
Pogoy had 23 points even though he went 6-of-21 from the field while an exhausted Erram produced 18 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks despite being an inadvertant hit to the chest by Aguilar in the second quarter that forced him to rush back into the locker room all of a sudden.
With Pringle struggling to make shots and Tenorio a bit quiet, Aguilar carried Ginebra to a 38-36 halftime lead after scoring the team’s last 13 points.
The two teams continued to trade leads in the third when Pringle, 1-of-10 from the field in thru three periods, scored five straight to open the fourth while Scottie Thompson later scored a putback in transition to make it 64-58 Ginebra, 10:00 left.
However, the Tropang Giga responded behind Simon Enciso, whose back-to-back triples put them ahead 73-68 with under five minutes remaining. That run didn’t deter the Kings as Tenorio scored and Pringle buried back-to-back threes to regain the lead 76-73, 3:16 to go.
That stretch was followed by a pair of TNT turnovers sandwiched by a Tenorio lob to Aguilar for the two-handed jam, hiking Ginebra’s lead to 78-73 with 1:51 left in the contest.
It was Tenorio’s sixth assist while also finishing with 10 points to wrap his record-tying fourth Finals MVP plum. Aguilar shot 8-of-12 from the floor, made 16-of-19 free throws while adding nine rebounds and three steals.
GINEBRA 82 — Aguilar 32, Pringle 13, Tenorio 10, Dillinger 8, Thompson 6, Mariano 5, Devance 2, Caperal 3, Chan 3, Tolentino 0.
TNT 78 — Pogoy 23, Erram 18, Enciso 17, Rosario 12, De Leon 6, Vosotros 2, Washington 0, Montalbo 0, Reyes 0, Carey 0.
Quarters: 19-19, 38-36, 55-56, 82-78.