Defending champion Barangay Ginebra got a much-needed lift from returning players Greg Slaughter and Sol Mercado just in the nick of time, to secure a twice-to-beat advantage in the 2018 Philippine Basketball Association Governors’ Cup.
Playing in their penultimate game in the elimination round, the Gin Kings finally got their two vital cogs back to bolster their three-peat title bid in the season-ending conference.
And the two quickly made their presence felt, delivering the biggest hits in Ginebra’s 93-86 victory on Sunday night at the SMART-Araneta Coliseum.
With the help of finally-healthy Kings Slaughter and Mercado, Ginebra booked a twice-to-beat incentive for the upcoming quarterfinals with an 8-3 slate, and have zeroed in on a top seed finish heading into their last game against the TNT Katropa on 4 November.
Coming off a left ankle injury, Slaughter finished with a near double-double of 11 points and nine rebounds to go with a block in just 20 minutes of play, to help Gin Kings weather the Hotshots’ rally from a massive 22-point deficit.
On the other hand, Mercado also provided spark with an all-around game of nine points, two rebounds , two assists and two blocks in 21 minutes of action, just in his first game this conference after knee surgery in the off-season.
“I feel good.
“I feel like I can get better too so I’ll just take it one game at a time and keep our goal in mind — we want to win this championship,” said the 7-foot Slaughter, who was sidelined for nearly two months.
The former Ateneo stalwart Slaughter sustained a severe left ankle injury last September 5 in their game against Northport that put him in the sickbay not only for the Gin Kings, but also for Gilas Pilipinas in the recently-concluded fifth window of the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.
For Slaughter, the credits go to their teammates who held the fort for the Gin Kings while he and Mercado had been out for the most of the elimination round.
“Fortunately, we’ve been able to take care of business with me and Sol’s absence and we were able to get good seeding,” he said.
That steady performance by Ginebra stringers gave Slaughter an ample time to recover and get his full health back.
“Fortunately, I didn’t have to hurry back and spent a little time getting my body stronger,” he added.
The bruiser Mercado also relished his comeback, but isn’t rushing his time to rediscover fiery form as he is bracing for a tough playoff run with the Gin Kings.
“It’s good to be back. It felt really good to be back out there. It felt like I was out for a long time,” he said.
“I’m still trying to get my rhythm and timing back but strength-wise in my knee, it felt good.”
With the timely returns of Mercado and Slaughter, Ginebra now only await Joe Devance to have a complete line-up going into the playoffs, where they will gun for a third Governors’ Cup title in a row.