By Olmin Leyba
THE battle lines are drawn, the missions are set and now it’s time for the combatants to fire the opening salvo in the awaited Barangay Ginebra versus Meralco IV.
In a now-familiar showdown for the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Governors’ Cup crown that’s been competitive through and through, both sides can’t emphasize enough the need to set the tone quickly and gain the head start.
“Try to get a winning start, that’s the most important thing,” Meralco coach Norman Black said on the eve of the 6 p.m. Game 1 before an expected huge crowd at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. “It’s not a guarantee that the team that gets off to the best start ends up winning the series, but it’s better to get that W immediately.”
Settling for bridesmaid honors in previous faceoffs in 2016, 2017 and 2019, the Bolts are fueled by that burning desire to get back at the Gin Kings and write a totally different ending with them on top. The defending champions are well aware of such.
“The past is the past and we want to stay more focused on what’s right in front of us,” said Ginebra mentor Tim Cone, confident his troops can match the Bolts’ motivation.
“We knew they’re going to be incredibly motivated; if we were in their shoes, we would be as well. But I don’t think you need a lot of motivation when you’re in the finals. The finals itself is motivation. Whether you lost the last three times or you won the last three times, it doesn’t matter.”
Justin Brownlee, Ginebra’s anchor in the previous conquests, is back for an encore. But this time, the resident import is up against a new opponent in Tony Bishop, the sniper who took over from the power-playing Allen Durham (AD).
Mr. Black said with Mr. Bishop’s presence, it will be “a different look for Ginebra.”
“In the past, they’ve always been able to shut down the paint against AD and force him to move out and take jump shots. This is a little bit different because Tony really takes jump shots so they’re going to have to find a way to slow his perimeter game down, find players who can actually defend and guard him from the perimeter,” he said.
On the other hand, the biggest problem for Meralco remains the same — Mr. Brownlee.
“It’s going to be tough especially with Justin (Brownlee) seemingly reaching his peak just at the right time. So Tony’s really got to play well for us to win this series, at least he’s got to try to equal the numbers of Justin as much as possible,” said Mr. Black.
For Mr. Cone, the Gin Kings should be at their sharpest on defense to enhance their chances against the defensive-savvy Bolts.
“I thought we played a great defensive series against TnT. It’s something we really had to do in order to get through them and that’s the kind of defense we’re hoping to bring to the Meralco series,” Mr. Cone said.
Both squads are dealing with injury concerns as Meralco’s Chris Banchero (back) and Ginebra’s Japeth Aguilar are both listed as “day-to-day.”
Best Player of the Conference contender Scottie Thompson, seasoned guard LA Tenorio, and Christian Standhardinger, who’s expected to suit up after a bout with “non-Covid-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) illness,” spearhead Ginebra’s potent local crew versus Meralco’s Chris Newsome, Raymond Almazan, Cliff Hodge, and Allein Maliksi.