Christmas Day losses hurt. Just ask the New York Knicks, who have lost 31 games on December 25, the most all time in the NBA.
The Bay Area Dragons certainly won’t reach that mark anytime soon, but the 96-81 loss they suffered at the hands of the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings pains them nonetheless.
Dominant as the Dragons have been, it’s the Gins Kings that have had their number. Ginebra had beaten Bay Area back in the preliminary round and continued to exert their dominance in Game 1 of the 2022-2023 Honda PBA Commissioner’s Cup. The Dragons initially had an eight-point lead in the second quarter, but the Gin Kings stayed the course and drew first blood on Christmas Day.
Pretty much everyone in Ginebra but Jaime Malonzo and Japeth Aguilar had a great night offensively, but they made up for it by combining for 15 rebounds. It turned out to be a boon for Bay Area, as they were sorely outrebounded (58-35) and flummoxed as the game went on.
Bay Area veered from their usual strategy of pounding the ball inside, settling for shots from behind the 3-point arc that fell at the start but proved ineffective later on. Credit can go to Ginebra’s in-game adjustments, but it also comes from a lack of ball movement that goes beyond the numbers.
The Dragons would pass the ball around the 3-point line before shooting a jump shot or a drive that would result in a shot off the glass. On fresh legs, this strategy can prove effective and can be sustained with a few lucky bounces here and there. But basketball, more so Philippine basketball, can be a game of attrition, and the Gin Kings know this well.
Ginebra picked their spots and eventually built a lead that grew to as large as 15 points, and they consistently made efforts to attack inside, thanks to the efforts of LA Tenorio and Justin Brownlee.
Being down 1-0 is not the end of the world, more so when defeat comes on and off-night. Two days should be more than enough for Bay Area to regroup and go back to what made them the top seed in the elimination round of the 2022-2023 Commissioner’s Cup. An import change is on the table until otherwise said so, but the main objective should be matching the physicality Gin Kings have opened the finals series with.
The 81 points the Dragons finished with in Game 1 are their lowest in this conference and part of that came from how they handled the approach of Ginebra. With the Gin Kings rostering the likes of Aguilar, Brownlee, Malonzo, and Christian Stanhardinger, Bay Area is up against a frontline that can be athletic or bruising and at times even both at once. Advantages they experienced against other PBA teams are not present, and so it will take more effort against Ginebra.
The Gin Kings were second in the PBA in turnovers at 16.9 per game and with 23 turnovers with Game 1, it could be an area the Dragons can capitalize on. Brownlee gets a huge chunk of the touches on the Ginebra side and with that huge usage comes some errors that can prove costly if converted on. Sealing the two-time Best Import of the Conference awardee’s driving and passing lanes will force him into questionable decisions and a bad night for him could translate to one for the rest of the team. It’s not a sure-win strategy, but taking Brownlee out of the equation puts things in Bay Area’s favor.
The Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings struck first and hit the Bay Area Dragons hard, earning a win in the opening game of the 2022-2023 Honda PBA Commissioner’s Cup. There’s still a lot of basketball to be played in this championship series regardless of how long it goes on for, but it’s on the Dragons (and their decisions from here on out) that will determine if they will emerge victorious or come home empty-handed.