Being up 3-2 in a seven-game series can be both a boon or a bane for the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings. They’re one win away from clinching the 2021 Honda PBA Governors’ Cup Championship but at the same time, a loss in Game 6 could even things up once again and leave it all for the marbles.
As basketball fans, a thrilling conclusion is more ideal, but fans of either the Gin Kings or the Meralco Bolts wouldn’t mind a blowout so long as it is in their team’s favor.
Ginebra‘s 115-110 in Game 5 largely came from a 40-point night from Justin Brownlee and the Gin Kings’ 16 made 3-pointers. The Bolts made multiple efforts to rally and were able to bring the deficit to a single point, 98-97, with 4:44 left in the fourth quarter. However, shots from Brownlee, Christian Standhardigner and Best Player of the Conference Scottie Thompson down the stretch allowed Ginebra to stave off any comeback attempts and move to within a win from their fourth Governors’ Cup title in the last five editions of the conference.
The Gin Kings are in familiar territory and can wrap things up on Wednesday if they continue to work through Brownlee to open up the rest of their offense. Aside from the barrage of 3-pointers, the 30 assists Ginebra finished with pointed to a better flow in their offense. Momentum seems to be on their side and overcoming a great offensive night from Meralco should give them confidence moving forward.
However, that doesn’t mean they can work on some things.
Japeth Aguilar has returned for Ginebra but the Gin Kings continue to use a short rotation. Three players playing at least 40 minutes in Game 5 may have been fine for Ginebra head coach Tim Cone considering they have two days of rest before Game 6 but it may not be ideal then considering how quick the turnover will be between Games 6 and 7. Aguilar continues to work his way back from a calf injury and while that could explain the heavy minutes from the Gin Kings’ starting frontcourt, Cone should allow some minutes for the likes of Sidney Onwubere and Prince Caperal considering the size advantage Ginebra now has.
Second-chance points remained in the Gin Kings’ favor in Game 5, but the Bolts’ Tony Bishop having as many offensive rebounds (six) as both Brownlee and Standhardinger might be a development Meralco will look into. Extra chances may not have hurt them now, but they could pose issues when Ginebra’s shots aren’t falling.
It’s not over for the Bolts, but the task at hand has certainly gotten harder. Meralco can have balanced scoring nights but it will amount to nothing if they can’t defend the Gin Kings’ 3-point shooting. The concern about containing Standhardinger and Brownlee is warranted, but the latter has done more significant damage from behind the 3-point line as it has opened things up for everyone else on the team. An outside-inside approach might be something in the cards, but there’s certainly not much (or even no) room for experimentation in a win-or-go-home situation.
The Bolts’ interior defense has certainly been helpful in so far as it also helps them go on transition. Ginebra is the older team and being stopped on offense can at times be deflating. A desperate team like Meralco should pounce on that especially when the numbers (age-wise and personnel) work in their favor.
Bolts head coach Norman Black should also continue to let his son Aaron Black handle a significant part of the offense regardless of what the naysayers say considering his and Chris Newsome’s physical advantages over the energetic Thompson and older LA Tenorio. Thompson will certainly make the Meralco backcourt work, but they certainly had their moments offensively as well. Black and Newsome shot no lower than 70 percent from the field in Game 5, with the former making three of his four 3-point attempts. A higher usage from both will certainly make their efficiency dip, but on average, they’ve been among the Bolts’ better performers beyond Bishop.
On the whole, the margin of error in the 2021 Honda PBA Governors’ Cup Finals has now become razor thin for both teams. A Game 6 loss for the Meralco Bolts means they’ll come home empty-handed, while all the work the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings put in to gain a slim advantage towards the title will be for naught if they drop the next game.
At this point, both teams pretty much know one another like the backs of their hands, so strategies will only go as far as which team can make the most of their current situation. How it plays out could spell the difference between another title for the Gin Kings or a free-for-all where the Bolts would certainly like their chances.