The more a championship series drags on, the more of a grind it becomes. Scoring drops, at times even drastically. The physicality picks up, with it the fouls and the ensuing complaints. Such is the nature when the stakes are raised, and in the case of the 2022-2023 Honda PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals, even national pride is on the line.
With the championship series tied at 1-1, both the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings and the Bay Area Dragons were grasping at straws and each other’s jerseys just to get an edge over the other.
The narrative for much of Game 3 was that it was a back-and-forth affair that saw the Dragons build a lead that the Gin Kings would then erase. There was a lot of pushing, shoving, missed shots, looks of exasperation – basically everything one would see in a tightly-contested game, more so a Finals game.
Then, staring at a 14-point deficit with 5:41 left in the third quarter, Ginebra finally put “Never Say Die” into practice and with emphasis. Chipping at the Bay Area lead began inside, with baskets by Justin Brownlee, Scottie Thompson, Christian Standhardinger further imposing their will.
Success in this finals series requires winning the battle inside, and the Gin Kings pretty much stuck with their interior attack in Game 3. It also helps to have a fanbase that punctuates how Ginebra is by and large the most popular team in the PBA.
The Dragons had some success inside, with their cuts and probing eventually finding them some baskets inside. But then, when the Gin Kings adjusted their defense, Bay Area settled for more perimeter shots. Things are great when the shots are falling, but as the game wears on, low percentage shots become what they truly are: a mirage. The Dragons’ interior offense was largely Andrew Nicholson, who unfortunately injured his left ankle after stepping on Jamie Malonzo’s foot during the final 34 seconds of Game 3.
Discussions on the free throw disparity in Game 3 (38-10 free throw attempts in favor of Ginebra, with 16 coming in the fourth quarter) is something that will likely be raised between now and Game 4 on Friday. Through three games, though, the winning team has won the free throw battle, thus making free throws a point of contention.
Amid all the discussions on what went right and wrong in Game 3, what matters now is Game 4. With Nicholson’s status up in the air for that game, Myles Powell could come into play, but he too is dealing with what is being described as a “serious” and “severe” left foot injury in practice. Playing without an import would put Bay Area in a precarious predicament, considering that the interior will be like blood in the water for the Gin Kings. Sure, the Dragons can play the 7’5” Liu Chuanxing but he can only provide rim protection for so long.
Limited to no Dragons imports certainly puts the pressure on… Ginebra. A team that loves to be in underdog situations suddenly has the momentum and the odds in their favor. Based on the results alone, their formula works. Physicality on both ends of the floor has given them offensive opportunities while limiting that of the Dragons. If anything, getting better looks may be something they could work on, as only Standhardinger made more than half of his field goal attempts. Ending the series as early as possible now becomes paramount for the Gin Kings.
We are at the tipping point of the 2022-2023 Honda PBA Commissioner’s Cup and both teams could go in different directions from here on out. The Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings have momentum on their side, with their Game 3 exploits adding to the lore of their “Never Say Die” mantra. Meanwhile, the Bay Area Dragons let a game slip away and could be without arguably their most important player for at least the next game.
Both teams can only do so much with the cards they were currently dealt with, but what matters more is what they make of it, since the title technically remains up for grabs.