Zhu, Nicholson take charge as Bay Area gets back at Ginebra

Bay Area rediscovered its fire and set Ginebra ablaze with a 99-82 victory in Game 2 of the best-of-seven 2022 PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals at the Smart Araneta Coliseum on Wednesday, Dec. 28.

Andrew Nicholson attacks the defense of Justin Brownlee. (Mark Balmores)

Zhu Songwei and Andrew Nicholson shrugged off the physical defense thrown at them by the Kings to lead the huge fourth quarter assault for the Dragons and reduce the series to a virtual best-of-five affair.

With the Kings threatening to author one of their signature comeback bids after trailing by as many as 17 points in the first half, Zhu, Nicholson and Hayden Blankley – three players who were limited in Game 1 —connived in the huge fourth quarter which slammed the door on Ginebra.

With their lead getting chopped down to just five, 68-63, Nicholson, Zhu and Blankley joined hands in the pivotal 9-0 run that restored order for the Dragons, 77-63.

Justin Brownlee tried to keep the Kings in the game with three straight triples but Bay Area simply had enough firepower towards the end to keep Ginebra at bay.

Zhu, saddled by foul trouble in Game 1, made sure to make his presence felt in the second game, finishing with 25 points and six rebounds while Nicholson, who was limited to his conference-low last time out, also bounced back with a double-double effort of 30 points and 15 boards.

Aside from the two, Blankley also broke out of his shooting slump and contributed 17 points built on three triples while Kobey Lam added 11 and Glen Yang orchestrated the attack with eight assists on top of his five points, six rebounds and three steals.

As much as how they struggled in the opening game of the series, everything clicked and went to the Dragons’ favor in Game 2 especially during a huge second quarter run that allowed them to take control of the contest.

Up by one, Bay Area turned a slim 22-21 lead into a 41-26 advantage with Zhu and Nicholson spearheading the assault. The Dragons even stretched the lead to 17 at the break – the biggest halftime deficit Ginebra had faced in the Finals since it trailed 63-46 against Meralco in 2019.

Even with the huge lead, the Dragons couldn’t really pull away as the Kings, behind the cheers from 16,044 fans inside the Big Dome, tried to rally back into the game in the second half.

Bay Area saw its lead diminish to a pair of seven point margins in the third frame, first a 57-50 and 75-68 before an and-1 play from Japeth Aguilar to open the final frame shoved the Kings back to within five.

Brownlee was the lone bright spot for Ginebra with 32 points while Jamie Malonzo was the only other player in double-digits for the Kings with 10.

The series will take a week-long break before action resumes in Game 3 on Jan. 4.