Time and time again, Game 5 of the 2022-2023 Honda PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals has been dubbed as a pivotal moment in the series.

The victor obviously moves to within a win of the championship, while the loser’s back is against the ropes, with little to no margin for error. Finding themselves in the former position are the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings.

Both teams thrive on execution and from the looks of it, the Gin Kings were able to thrive amidst adversity. Part of it comes from having a more complete and relatively healthier lineup compared to the Dragons, who have been missing the services of Andrew Nicholson for the past two games due to sprained left ankle. Another part comes from simply playing their game by hook or by crook.

Title series are won through strategic nuances rather than sheer talent and brute force.

Ginebra knew they wasted a golden opportunity when they lost a very winnable Game 4, which would have all but guaranteed a title by now. There were perhaps some moments spent moping over the defeat, but there was no use crying over spilled milk. The series was tied and the Gin Kings remained in control of their destiny and all they needed to do was take care of business in Game 5.  


The 24 assists Ginebra finished with pointed to a concerted effort to get the ball around and find the best shot possible. The back-breaking 3-pointers that quelled Bay Area’s run? Both came off Gin Kings passes. Some of the 40 points in the paint that Ginebra scored? The product of pinpoint passes to get the Dragons defense off their toes. The final Japeth Aguilar dunk to put an exclamation point? Of course, off a pass. 

Passes alone won’t hand the Gin Kings the championship in Game 6, but it’s the principle with which they utilize these passes that have been the difference maker. The assists reflect as much, but Ginebra’s missed shots also matter because both makes and misses more often than not came from open shots.

Getting open has been easier said than done, especially against a disciplined team like Bay Area. The Gin Kings have the bodies to set bone crushing screens and give perimeter players enough wiggle room to get open, but when the Dragons coaching staff led by Brian Goorijan can teach their players what to do to counter, then Ginebra has their work cut out for them.

Game 6 won’t be easy for either thing, but the pressure will be on the Gin Kings to finish things on Wednesday. Depending on how quickly his ankle heals, Nicholson will either be out or limited. The longer the series plays out, the higher the chances Nicholson returns to full strength and Ginebra would prefer to have the edge in the numbers game. No Nicholson has meant great games from Aguilar and Justin Brownlee shooting-wise, and it’s been evident how Tim Cone and the rest of the Gin Kings coaching staff have made the necessary adjustments.

Defensively, Ginebra has been able to defend the perimeter with more ease with no Nicholson patrolling the paint. A limited Nicholson may just require them to respect his shooting, but they may need to focus on rebounding, which remained close (44-43 in favor of the Gin Kings) even without Nicholson. The Canadian will likely be limited to securing possession and some easy baskets, but those can be painful in a close game, more so when they pile up.

The earlier portion of the 2022-2023 PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals was viewed as a tipping point for both the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings and the Bay Area Dragons and now, it can be said that we’re at the penultimate moment. Game 5 can be the penultimate contest before the Gin Kings’ conquest in Game 6, or Game 6 could be the penultimate game of the conference. 

But just like life, games are defined by what you make of it. And Ginebra either has a golden opportunity within grasp.