Through three games, the Meralco Bolts currently lead the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings 2-1 in the best-of-seven championship series of the 2021 Honda PBA Governors’ Cup.
On the surface, it’s a welcome development for the Bolts. Two games away from a title feels oh-so-close, but then again it would be unwise to expect Ginebra to go down without a fight. Unlike the first game, when Meralco opened the series with a 13-point win, the next two contests were only decided in the final quarter, with the winner having an average margin of 7.5 points.
It would be fair to say that Justin Brownlee is key to the series for both teams, considering his impact on their respective title chances. Good things come the Gin Kings’ way whenever Brownlee is playing at his best. It should then come as no surprise that in both of Ginebra’s losses, the 33-year old has been shooting 36.7 percent from the field, whereas he made 66 percent of his field goal attempts in the Gin Kings’ Game 2 win. The near triple-double performance only emphasizes how he is at his best doing a little bit of everything.
Bolts head coach Norman Black knows that taking Brownlee out of his element is crucial as it spills over to the rest of the team production-wise and in terms of their morale. High-percentage shots are harder to find especially when Ginebra head coach Tim Cone goes with a shorter rotation. Christian Standhardinger has been a steady presence, while Scottie Thompson has been punching way above his weight especially with the rebounds, but it seems as if Black is willing to live with those so long as it evens things out.
When things are as such, it works well for Meralco’s next-man-up mentality. Allein Maliksi continues his solid play this postseason as his 22 points handed the series opener to the Bolts. For his part, Aaron Black has been steadily getting better and his 24-point performance in Game 2 nearly helped Meralco take the victory. Meanwhile in Game 3, it was Chris Newsome, who finished with 20 points, pairing with Tony Bishop to break the 1-1 series tie.
Bishop is understandably the lesser-known import in this series, but his work on both ends of the floor has not gone unnoticed by his team. His defense on Brownlee has been invaluable in what has turned out to be a grind of a series, and his offensive contributions have allowed his teammates opportunities to shine.
As Cone tries to navigate through another series deficit, the principles of the triangle offense will continue to be his answer towards finding space offensively. The Gin Kings have failed to breach past the 100-point mark in this series and while their defense has been capable of stymieing the Bolts, it will likely be for naught if their offense fails to catch up. He can certainly go to his bench, but with Japeth Aguilar still nursing a calf injury, he has been left to depend on an aging and somewhat inexperienced bench looking to get out of its own slump. Aguilar would certainly add an extra punch as their frontcourt depth would certainly offset the defensive coverage on Brownlee.
Black must continue to zero-in on 3-point shooting, both from an offensive and defensive standpoint. The Bolts having a good night from behind the 3-point line certainly opens things for their interior offense and forces Ginebra to exert more effort defensively. Moreover, a bad shooting night for the Gin Kings only clogs the lane for their big men, who alone won’t be able to will their team to win.
The Meralco Bolts clearly hope to clinch the title this week, but don’t be surprised if this series goes the distance. Barangay Ginebra is too talented to solely rely on Justin Brownlee, his good and bad nights have turned out to be an indicator of how games will end. Tony Bishop has made some solid contributions for the Bolts but a few players have come to his support so far. Regardless of the outcome, it will be a war of attrition here on out and you wouldn’t expect less from the cast of characters in this finals series.