SMART CLARK GIGA CITY — Barangay Ginebra is now up 1-0 over Meralco in the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup best-of-five semifinals, but head coach Tim Cone refuses to feel relieved despite the advantage.
The bitter memories of being in the same position only to suffer heartbreak remain fresh in his and his squads’ minds.
“I remember we went into a Magnolia series a year or two ago,” he recalled moments after their 96-79 victory, Wednesday, “and we were favored. And we won Game One, and we were sitting nice and pretty.
“And then Magnolia swept us three games in a row in the semifinals and went on to play San Miguel in the championship.”
Cone was referring to, perhaps, last season’s Philippine Cup quarterfinals. The Barangay, then coming in as the third-seed, faced long-time rivals Magnolia in a best-of-three affair.
The Gin Kings took the opener through an 86-75 decision and needed just one win to move to the semis. But the Hotshots spoiled their plans by taking the last two games with an average margin of 21.0 points.
Magnolia had actually been struggling early in the conference before finding its groove entering the playoffs that time. It then beat Rain or Shine in seven games in the semis, before finishing as runner-up to San Miguel in the Finals.
“So that’s fresh in my mind, that’s fresh in our mind, our collective minds. This game is nice to get, but we’ve been in this situation before.”
Now, Cone and Ginebra have the chance to prove that they have learned their lesson very well when they face the Bolts in Game 2 on Friday at 3:45 p.m.
Contributions were plenty for the Barangay back in Game 1. A total of six Gin Kings finished in double figures, spearheaded by Stanley Pringle with 19 points in a game that saw him buck early foul trouble.
But it wasn’t just offense that made wonders in the win. Cone also lauded their efforts on defense, particularly by Japeth Aguilar. His shot-altering presence shackled the Bolts, who shot just 39-percent from the field.
Moreover, there were no other sources of offense for Meralco besides Allein Maliksi and Chris Newsome. Reynel Hugnatan and Baser Amer, both of whom usually produced double-digit outputs, combined for only 11 markers.
Still, Cone remains wary, since he expects Coach Norman Black’s chargers to fight back and do whatever they can to equalize the series.
“Meralco is a team on a mission, and we interrupted that for one day, but hopefully we can continue to interrupt it,” the league’s most accomplished mentor said.
“We played a really, really excellent game tonight. We aren’t that good and they aren’t that bad. So we’re going to see a much better Game Two, that’s for darn sure.”