The Barangay Ginebra San Miguel showed immense character down the stretch to escape the Phoenix Pulse Fuel Masters, 100-97, to return to the 2019 PBA Philippine Cup win column, Sunday night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Scottie Thompson and Japeth Aguilar stepped up on defense, before Aljon Mariano sank the game-clinching free throws with 4.5 seconds left to play to grab the win for Ginebra, who came back from an 86-91 deficit with 5:10 to go.
“So lucky,” exhaled Ginebra head coach Tim Cone, whose side has improved to 4-3.
LA Tenorio finished with a game-high 23 points, eight rebounds and five assists and added three steals to lead the crowd favorites, on the night he matched PBA legend Alvin Patrimonio in terms of number of games played at 596.
Mariano flirted with a double-double with 20 points and nine rebounds. Greg Slaughter supplied 18 points and 11 boards, while Jeff Chan provided 13 points off the bench. Aguilar chimed in 11 markers and two blocks.
The Gin Kings actually trailed by five, 86-91, with 5:10 remaining in the final frame. But they fought back by unleashing an 8-2 rally – highlighted by back-to-back three-pointers by Tenorio – to snatch the lead, 94-93, with three minutes to go.
Both squads would then trade buckets, before a Justin Chua elbow jumper gave Phoenix a 97-96 lead with 1:53 left.
But that proved to be the last time the Fuel Masters would taste the lead. Jason Perkins garnered his sixth and final foul as he tried to defend Cruz, and the latter would sink his freebies with 53.9 ticks to go.
Thompson then stepped up on defense after that, intercepting Matthew Wright’s pass. And moments later, with around five seconds on the clock, Aguilar timed Calvin Abueva’s shot off a Wright assist and swatted it away.
Abueva immediately fouled Mariano to stop the clock. The latter did not disappoint, as he calmly sank his shots from the charity stripe to make it a three-point lead for the Barangay with 4.5 seconds left in the game.
Wright tried to tie the game by making a half-court heave, but his shot only kissed the board before trickling in and out.
“We showed great character all game long,” lauded the decorated Cone. “Things weren’t going for us… We just kept at it. There’s a reason why they’re on top. They’re really that good. They’re well-coached, they played great defense.”
Abueva had 15 points and 11 rebounds for Phoenix, who saw their three-game winning streak come to an end. Doug Kramer supplied 14 points and eight boards, while Chua and RJ Jazul had 13 markers apiece.
Wright finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
The loss stalled the league-leading Fuel Masters’ plans of clinching one of the top two spots that merits a win-once incentive in the quarterfinals.
Ginebra will next take on the Magnolia Hotshots in a Manila Clasico tiff next Sunday, March 17, at the same venue. Meanwhile, Phoenix will face the San Miguel Beermen on Saturday, March 16, at Panabo City, Davao.
Ginebra 100 – Tenorio 23, Mariano 20, Slaughter 18, Chan 13, Aguilar 11, Thompson 5, Cruz 4, Dela Cruz 4, Mercado 2, Caperal 0, Ferrer 0.
Phoenix 97 – Abueva 15, Kramer 14, Jazul 13, Chua 13, Wright 10, Marcelo 10, Perkins 9, Mallari 9, Revilla 2, Mendoza 2.
Quarterscores: 18-24, 40-46, 72-76, 100-97.