Barangay Ginebra coach Tim Cone said they will try to be as ready as possible when they face the wrath of a San Miguel Beer team aching for revenge on Sunday in the Philippine Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
It will be the first meeting between the two teams this year and the game is fraught with significance since it was the Gin Kings who eliminated the Beermen in a thrilling semifinal series in the Governors’ Cup last year which went to a fifth and deciding game.
Cone’s primary objective, as usual, is to stop the nearly unstoppable Junemar Fajardo, the PBA’s best player the past several years who is aiming for a record fourth straight MVP award.
“From a coaching stand point there’s nothing tougher to defend than June Mar Fajardo,” said Cone, whose players started practice last Monday after celebrating the holiday season.
“Trying to figure out what to do against him (Fajardo), that perplexed all of us coaches,” he said. “To me, SMB is the hardest team to prepare for because of him and the weapons around him.”
In their semifinal duel, Ginebra bucked the absence of injured 7-foot center Greg Slaughter, who also guards the SMB star, and forced Fajardo to five turnovers per game. Despite their best efforts, however, the three-time reigning Most Valuable Player still averaged nearly 18 points and 17 rebounds in the series.
“We play San Miguel from the frying fan into the fire, they are the leaders as usual,” said Cone. “We somehow, I still don’t know how we did it, knocked them out in the last conference in the best of five series.”
“They’re gonna have revenge coming back at us. We just have to come out and do our best. Hopefully we get prepared.
It’s too bad this game could have been a nice chance to build momentum but now it’s like two weeks before our next game it’s hard to have carry that momentum over.”
During the deciding Game 5, the 6-foot-10 Fajardo was held to just seven points as Ginebra hammered a masterful 117-92 win. Ginebra went on to beat Meralco in six games to win the Governors’ Cup for the team’s first title since the 2008 Fiesta Conference.
In Sunday’s match, Ginebra won’t have import Justin Brownlee, who was the main defender of Fajardo. He expects LA Tenorio, Sol Mercado and Scottie Thompson to help contain the SMB giant, much like what they did in the semis.
This time, the players expected to lead the defensive effort in trying to limit the production of the Cebu native is Japeth Aguilar, Ginebra’s athletic 6-foot-10 forward, 6-foot-8 forward Joe Devance and 6-foot-5 Dave Marcelo.
Fajardo, the league’s reigning three-time MVP, is currently the leading contender for the Best Player of the Conference (BPC) with averages of 20.2 points, league-leading 17.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.5 shot blocks.
Ginebra won a Christmas Day game against rival Star (86-79) that improved its record to 3-3, tied with Alaska, GlobalPort and Star, but Cone’s team will face an SMB side that has won its last two games, against NLEX (106-80) and Meralco (101-86).
“We’ll have a feel good sense going to SMB and maybe that would help us,” added Cone.