PBA: Kings stand in the way

By Waylon Galvez

Games Today

(Mall of Asia Arena)

4:15 p.m. – Rain or Shine vs TNT KaTropa

7 p.m. – San Miguel vs Ginebra

Coach Tim Cone is both pleased and worried that his defending champion Barangay Ginebra San Miguel was able to sneak in a twice-to-beat advantage in the PBA Governors’ Cup.

Pleased, because Ginebra needs just one victory to secure a semifinals berth, but worried of the difficult task of having to end the Grand Slam dream of San Miguel Beer in their quarterfinal duel set tonight at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Barangay Ginebra San Miguel’s Greg Slaughter, 2nd from left, gets a hand on a shot by San Miguel Beer’s June Mar Fajardo as three other GSM Kings, from left, LA Tenorio, Kevin Ferrer and Justin Brownlee follow the action during the teams’ elimination round game weeks ago in the PBA Governors’ Cup. A seat in the semifinals is at stake in their playoff showdown today. (PBA Images | Manila Bulletin)

“We make (the) top four and our ‘reward’ is to play San Miguel. Not much of a reward!” Cone said on the eve of the 7 p.m. game, perhaps the most anticipated matchup of the season-ending conference’s first playoff round.

Not that Cone is complaining. Ginebra made it to the top four despite a disappointing 121-92 loss to TNT KaTropa to end its elimination round campaign Saturday, thanks to Manila Clasico rival Star’s win over NLEX over the weekend.

But Ginebra is out to redeem itself from absorbing a 107-103 loss to San Miguel in their only elims meeting last Sept. 10, a game that made Cone and company realize that they’re far from being in the same league as the Beermen.

San Miguel hasn’t been the menacing team it has been in winning the season’s first two conferences. Import issues with Wendell McKines and Terik Bridgeman, inconsistency and a big meltdown Sunday against Meralco sent the Beermen to a tough task of having to beat Ginebra twice.

What was supposed to be a finals preview groomed before the conference began has become an early survival for both teams.

“Obviously, we have the toughest assignment, but at least with the twice-to-beat advantage, we have a margin for error that San Miguel doesn’t have,” said Cone. “On the other hand, we need to get it done in the first game. They’re just too good to give them another chance to. They beat us up in the elims. We need to turn the table.”

Ginebra’s chances of deny San Miguel a triple crown rests on consistent performances from his talent-laden roster, namely import Justin Brownlee, Greg Slaughter, LA Tenorio, Joe Devance, Scottie Thompson and Japeth Aguilar.

They’ll be missing one of their key pieces in rookie forward Kevin Ferrer, who is expected to miss two weeks because of a stressed fracture after falling down face first during the first half against TNT.

The Beermen have been defiant in saying that such adversity should make them play even better, with coach Leo Austria stressing: “When it comes to the playoffs, it’s a different ball game eh, different gameplan, different strategy. Kailangan ma-sustain energy namin dahil we’re up against Ginebra.”

Expected to be overshadowed by the Ginebra-San Miguel duel is TNT KaTropa’s bid to reach the semifinals against Rain or Shine in their 4:15 p.m. match.

TNT, led by import Glen Rice Jr. and Jayson Castro, finished second in the elims, and is out to put to rest the bitter memory of losing to Rain or Shine, 105-73, last Aug. 20 when the absence of Castro, Pogoy and Troy Rosario because of national team duties forced the KaTropa to field a depleted roster.

Tags: Barangay Ginebra San Miguel , PBA Governors’ Cup , Tim Cone