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Never Say Die is back! Ginebra eliminates Star in a ‘Clasico’ overtime

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Who said Never Say Die was dead?

In front of 21,808 fans – the biggest for the PBA at the SM Mall of Asia Arena -, the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel were down by as much as 18 points with eight minutes left in regulation. In a display of amazing determination and great shooting, the “Never Say Die” team rallied back behind Sol Mercado and a buzzer-beater by LA Tenorio to eliminate rivals Star Hotshots 92-89 in overtime Christmas evening.

From the get go, Star tried to deny Ginebra’s bigs touches underneath. In less than five minutes, they already established a 9-2 lead, while also fishing for Japeth Aguilar’s second quick foul. Star’s trapping defense surprised Ginebra, as the Kings struggled to get their scoring game going with early turnovers. The Kings, however, were able to erase a 15-8 deficit in the latter stretch of the opening frame as they ended the first on a strong 13-3 run capped by a triple by rookie Scottie Thompson to take the lead.

The enegetic second unit of the two teams showed up both offensively and defensively in the start of the next quarter. An exchange of frantic possessions yielded a 26-all with 5:45 left in the first half. Afterwards, eleven lead changes ensued in the back-and-forth play sealed by a Greg Slaughter putback and give his team a 38-37 lead at the break.

The seesaw-action continued in the opening part of the second half. However, Star suddenly took charge, building an 8-2 mini-run including three-point plays by Taha and Yap. The game got heated after a series of loose ball scrambles. In addition, the game slowed down with the number of fouls committed by the two teams. Maliksi, Mallari and Melton combined for Star’s last nine points of the quarter in the final minute to increase their lead to 11, that was cut to eight at the buzzer, as LA Tenorio banked in a three to end the third.

In a span of two minutes into the fourth, an 8-0 blitz by Star broke the game wide open and cruise to a 16-point advantage. As things threatened to look bleak for the Kings, their comeback hopes slightly opened with Star committing fouls wherein Pingris exhausted all of his six available. James Yap converted on a fallaway jumper that restored a 15 point lead with four minutes left, while thwarting Ginebra’s chances.

In a blink of an eye and with less than two minutes remaining, Sol Mercado completed a three point play, then followed it up with a huge triple to cut the lead down to five with half a minute remaining. Afterwards, Yap split his free throws that was answered by a crucial three by Aguilar. Barroca, who was seemingly trying to call for timeout, was taken to the foul stripe after a controversial foul called on Scottie Thompson. After two made free throws, Mercado sinked in another triple to make it an 80-78 game in favor of Star with 7.6 ticks left. Star failed to inbound the ball properly, while Thompson tied the game at 80 with an uncontested fastbreak layup. In a stunning sequence, the Hotshots once again muffed a pass but Mercado came up short in a potential game-winning shot.

All three triples made by Star were answered by Ginebra in a wild shootout to commence overtime. As clock melted quickly, things were tied at 89 with 31 second to go. Star went blank in their next possession, while Ginebra had a shot in the last play. After a timeout, Tenorio then knocked down the cold-blooded game-winning three at the buzzer to finish their Christmas day advancing to the next round.

“This was one of the most amazing games I’ve been involved in,” said 26 year PBA head coach Tim Cone. “It’s like we got a second Christmas gift tonight.”

Five Kings ended up in double-figures led by Mercado’s 17 off the bench. Slaughter and Caguioa added 12 and 11 respectively. For the eliminated Hotshots, Simon finished with 17 markers but shot 6/16 from the field.

The two teams combined for 21 triples, but Ginebra outscored Star in the paint, 42-32. Lastly, they outrebounded the Hotshots, 64-50.

Ginebra will face the GlobalPort Batang Pier on Sunday, 5:00pm in a knockout match. Game will be played at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.

The Scores:
Ginebra (92) – Mercado 17, Slaughter 12, Tenorio 11, Caguioa 10, Devance 10, Aguilar 9, Ellis 9, Thompson 9, Helterbrand 3, Cruz 2, Marcelo 0.
Star (89) – Simon 17, Sangalang 13, Barroca 11, Yap 10, Maliksi 9, Mallari 9, Melton 7, Reavis 4, Taha 4, Cruz 3, Pingris 2, Pascual J. 0, Torres 0.
Quarterscores: 21-18, 38-37, 54-62, 80-80, 92-89.

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