Among the pivotal games in a seven-game series, Game 5 presents a tense situation. The winner moves to within a brink of ending the series and the loser must win the succeeding game to survive. As simple as it sounds, all of it comes with immense pressure for both sides. Both sides won’t want to give an inch to the other, even with the winner having the comfort of being ahead.
Such is the situation facing the TNT Tropang Giga, who despite being a win away from the championship after winning Game 5 of the 2023 Honda PBA Governors’ Cup Finals must be sensing the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings being right at their heels.
The Gin Kings were actually able to build a double-digit lead over the Tropang Giga in Game 5, holding a 61-49 lead at halftime. TNT would then go on a huge run in the second half and coupled with Justin Brownlee leaving the game for good with 7:19 left in the third quarter, Ginebra could not get over the hump.
Some will say that the Gin Kings lost Game 5, but let’s not discount the Tropang Giga’s effort to secure the 104-95 victory that put them a win away from clinching the championship. Ginebra obviously wouldn’t hand this game over on a silver platter and so, TNT crashed the boards and moved the ball around to find the best shot possible. Doing so snuffed the Gin Kings’ last comeback attempt.
A chance at title coronation on Friday certainly gives some comfort to the Tropang Giga, but like in other things, comfort is the enemy of progress. Christian Standhardinger seems to be Ginebra’s most consistent player, with Gin Kings head coach Tim Cone relying on “magic bunots” to atone for the struggles of Jeremiah Gray and in Game 5, Jaime Malonzo. It would be surprising if Brownlee sits out Game 6, but one has to wonder how close to 100 percent he would be in a few days rest.
Circumstances point to the series being in TNT’s favor and Game 6 is an opportunity they can’t waste. The Tropang Giga’s consecutive wins were built on 3-point shooting, persistent ball movement, and matching Ginebra’s physicality, among other things. The GIn Kings have been unable to make the necessary adjustments and TNT’s grit has also been a major factor to their 3-2 series lead. Newly crowned Best Import of the Conference Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had an injury scare of his own Game 5, but he shook it off and instead shook the rim.
One would expect Ginebra to put up a fight in Game 6 and the Tropang Giga’s greatest asset would have to be Calvin Oftana. The 27-year old has become a major contributor for TNT in this conference and his unique combination of size and talent has made him a difficult cover. Hollis-Jefferson will always get his numbers, but it’s Oftana’s hits that do the most damage. Should the Tropang Giga become champions, the former San Beda Red Lion may very well be the Finals MVP.
For a series that has gone on this long, is there anything else TNT can do differently though? Yes, but why run the risk of going away from what works? Rest is a priority now because only the strong will survive. Everyone is banged up to varying degrees and playing smart will be better than playing hard. It doesn’t mean taking possessions off, but it requires a good understanding of one’s opponent. Between now and then, Tropang Giga head coach Jojo Lastimosa can do that by getting his squad ready especially in the mental aspect of the game, which is where championships are at times won and lost.
Game 5 was a boon to the TNT Tropang Giga’s title chances, but the focus now shifts to Game 6. This is turning out to be the Tropang Giga’s championship to lose and if they veer away from what has worked thus far, we may reach the Game 7 everyone has been harping on from the start.