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Tim Cone says going up against Jolas will be tough due to close relationship

Ginebra head coach Tim Cone knows that keeping the other team “unbalanced” is key in every playoff series, but he is unsure if he can do as much in the 2023 PBA Governors’ Cup Finals against a counterpart so familiar with him.

“It’s tough going head-to-head because he knows me like the back of his hand,” the owner of 25 titles said. “He knows the way I like it, he knows my approach, he knows the way I like to adjust. He’s seen that all through the years.

“It’s going to be very hard for me to keep him unbalanced, and that’s usually the key to playing in a series — trying to keep the other team unbalanced. I’m not sure we’re going to be able to do that, but we’re certainly going to try.

Cone is, of course, talking about Jojo Lastimosa, whose TNT is out to foil the Kings’ bid for a rare three-peat in the season-ending conference.

“I think I’ve never been this close to an opposition coach before in my career. Jojo is the closest guy I’ve ever been to,” said Cone while standing right beside his former student after the pre-Finals presser on Monday at Novotel Araneta.

The two have formed a bond so deep, having won multiple titles together with Alaska — from that historic stretch in the 90s highlighted by a Grand Slam, to a few more as coaches later on.

“It’s like I’m seeing myself going back with Alaska, Tim by my side. I’m always comfortable with Tim when we’re together, as a player, and as an assistant coach,” said the member of the league’s 25 Greatest Players.

“It’s just like coming home. I’m comfortable being around Tim, and as you can see, there’s no animosity between the two of us.”

There’s indeed no animosity whatsoever, and Cone seconded as much. “It’s going to be hard to get mad at Jojo for anything he might do in a game,” said the 65-year-old bench tactician, who first handled Lastimosa in 1991, smiling.

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“The history is long, and the history was intense. We had some intense moments together through our respective careers — as a player, assistant coach, and then the off-the-court stuff,” he added.

“My wife still feels very close to his wife, and we keep up on his kids; he keeps up on our kids. It’s a really close relationship.”

But of course, both know that they still have jobs to do.

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As proud as he is of how far Lastimosa has come, the two-time Grand Slam winner is at the same time wary of the chess match he’ll be figuring in since he’ll be facing a coach who’s also picked the brains of other great coaches.

“Going up head-to-head with him is going to be difficult. He’s had great exposure, not just from me, but from Chot Reyes, from Yeng Guiao,” he said. “He’s been able to bring the best of that, and it’s obvious.”

Appointed to man TNT’s sidelines to let Chot Reyes focus more on Gilas Pilipinas, Lastimosa steered the club to a 10-1 record in the eliminations to get the top seed, with one of his wins at the expense of Ginebra last March 17.

The Tropang Giga are headed to the Finals with just a pair of losses, having lost Game 3 of their best-of-five semis affair against Meralco.

“What, he’s lost two games in his career so far, and both of them were games he probably should’ve won. So, he could very well be easily undefeated at this point, going into the Finals,” offered Cone.

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Lastimosa, for his part, is just filled with excitement to be battling Cone in the Finals beginning on Sunday at the SMART Araneta Coliseum.

“I’m just excited to be on the same floor with Tim,” he said. “So much respect, because he has done so much for the game, so I’m just here to learn, and as the series goes on, I know he is a genius on that, so we’ll see how it goes.”

The 2023 PBA Governors Cup Finals is live-streamed on SMART Sports.

Written By

Oftentimes on the sidelines. Forever a student of the game. Morayta-bred.

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