After the massacre came the near collapse.
Part of us is still bewildered that Barangay Ginebra somehow had to rally before outlasting San Miguel in overtime, 124-118, in Game 2 of the PBA Philippine Cup Finals. It was a match they had dominated early and could have easily wrapped up with nary a bruise.
From the outset, the Gin Kings starters showed the bounce and intensity missing during their humiliating Game One lost at the MOA Arena, racing to a 24-point half-time lead to the delight of the team's thousands of Lucena-based fans. Key reserve Kevin Ferrer got hot early, too—but cooled off when it mattered—finishing with 21 points.
That 24-point cushion, however, evaporated in a jiffy as SMB switched into relentless mode. A jarring 15-0 outburst—punctuated by salt bae-happy Marcio Lassiter and resurgent stretch-four Arwind Santos's three-point jumpers and the defending champs' trademark take-no-prisoners defense—had Coach Tim Cone calling three straight time outs, hoping to calm down his suddenly misfiring and rattled boys and prevent SMB's rampaging push.
By the fourth quarter, this two-game old series became the Finals we all wanted to see: a dogfight that showcased heroes both old and new, big-time ballers whose sense of the suspenseful turned what should have been a ho-hum game into a riveting must-watch.
There was also reversal of roles in the second half of that game, one that impacted both teams in different ways going into tonight's Game Three showdown at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
For San Miguel, Game 2 preys-turned-hunters, the outcome matters less than the confidence-boost they've gained from their defiant stand. They're the heavy favorites for a reason, a fact that can't simply be undermined by one fiery half of explosive play.
Truth is, they own arguably the most scorching offense in the land. Their 75-point second half blast in Game Two was every Ginebra believer's nightmares charging at him from every angle.
They can significantly up their shooting accuracy by re-establishing June Mar Fajardo down low first. They must also avoid chucking reckless threes in bunches. Fact: they launched 46 threes in Game Two, making only 17, with Santos, who went 5-18 3-PT FG (27.7%), having the itchiest trigger finger of them all.
For Ginebra, the directive is obvious: never ever sleep (not even a minute of momentary siesta) on defense! They've been giving away 113.5 points to San Miguel while scoring 103 points per game so far. That number has to go down significantly so the Gin Kings can keep up and stay competitive from Game Three onward.
Awareness of coach Leo Austria's offensive patterns is vital. They need to be in the Beermen's faces at all times. Their foes seem gung-ho in their belief that they can outgun Ginebra to win the crown anyway. To shut them up, the Gin Kings must begin shutting them down from start to finish asap.
An old cliché has it that dizzying offense almost always comes after playing formidable defense. You know what Ginebra's priority should be then. Sure, it was a blessing to see wunderkind Scottie Thompson and the rest of the Ginebra starters score in double figures last Sunday just like the vaunted San Miguel five. Still, thinking like they have to play like that from here on out would be unwise—though we agree, Thompson, surely on the Beermen's radar now, must be unleashed some more as the series progresses.
But make no mistake: Ginebra's commitment to play rugged and tenacious D is critical to its success. If the team focuses on that first, the baskets—and hopefully, more precise freethrow shooting—will follow as it settles into flow.
Photography: KC Cruz