The PBA Governors’ Cup Finals is upon us and once again, it’s the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings and the Meralco Bolts vying for the title. Both teams squared off against one another in three of the last four editions of the PBA Governors’ Cup Finals, with Ginebra winning all three.
Of course, the 2021 PBA Governors’ Cup comes amidst much different circumstances, but it would be unwise to think that the past has no lingering effects on the players, coaches, and even the fanbases.
For the Gin Kings, history leads to some comfort that this isn’t their first rodeo. Then again, the circumstances are quite different now. Players are a year older and ideally wiser, but the chances of wear and tear have gone up. Also, new additions like Christian Standhardigner, John Pinto, and Sidney Onwubere have replaced Greg Slaughter, Art Dela Cruz, and Julian Sargent, all of whom were last seen the last time Ginebra faced the Bolts back in January 2020.
This season, Justin Brownlee has proven the naysayers wrong with each passing postseason game, capping things off so far by bringing the Gin Kings to the Finals with 47 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, three steals, and three blocks in the Game 4 clincher over the NLEX Road Warriors. It’s safe to say those knees are still working fine.
Ginebra finishing the preliminaries with a middling record and as the sixth seed raised some doubts, but all of those were erased once the stakes rose. Over the course of the conference, the Gin Kings have remained the best inside-outside team, converting on more than half of their 2-point shots and leading the league in 3-point shooting percentage (35 percent). It’s not surprising that they lead all PBA teams in scoring despite having the worst free throw shooting percentage (67 percent).
Without a doubt, Ginebra enters the championship round with momentum and more rest. For head coach Tim Cone and the rest of the Gin Kings coaching staff, it means more time to prepare a strategy for what will be a physical series.
Meanwhile, it would be fair to expect the Oh-no-not-again feeling to dawn on Meralco, but having head coach Norman Black at the helm means there’s no quit in them. As a player in the PBA and even as a coach with the Ateneo Blue Eagles, the relentless work ethic was what he practiced and preached.
All the losses in the Finals certainly added an element of toughness that has fueled the consistency many have seen with the Bolts in conferences over the past few years. Championships continue to elude Meralco, but them being a frequent postseason participant is a testament to how they have developed a culture ripe for a title.
Black has the quiet yet efficient Tony Bishop in place of Allen Durham and the transition has looked seamless especially with results so far. Moreover the maturing games of the likes of Aaron Black, Chris Newsome, and Allein Maliksi have made them a more balanced attack that can be tougher to cover. Maliksi in particular, has emerged as a valuable, and more importantly, consistent contributor, as proven by the game-high 24 points he had in the decisive Game 5 win over the Magnolia Hotshots.
Defeating the overall top seed Hotshots is a confidence booster the Bolts will gladly take, especially as facing Ginebra means they will have their work cut out for them over the course of the best-of-seven series. Meralco grabs the same amount of rebounds as the Gin Kings, and out working them on the boards could prevent Ginebra from creating too much separation.
Considering everything they went through, though, this could be the moment where Black finally gets over the hump. Try as Black may to downplay things, it’s certainly on his mind.
Ginebra-Meralco IV will be another addition to what has been a growing, albeit one-sided rivalry so far, in the PBA Governors’ Cup. Both teams have something to prove, whether to outsiders or themselves, and there’s no better way to emphasize a point than with a championship.