Game 1 of best-of-7 finals set on Friday.
Barangay Ginebra San Miguel leaned on a torrid start before sustaining the lead till the end to beat the Star Hotshots, 89-76, and arrange a title showdown with sister team San Miguel Beermen for the PBA Philippine Cup title.
Ginebra scored the game’s first six points, then took a 21-7 lead behind Sol Mercado, Japeth Aguilar, Scottie Thompson, and Joe Devance before thwarting a Hotshots rally at the end of the third to prevail in a Manila Clasico series that had bits of drama and defensive battles.
Most of the 20,000 fans at the Mall of Asia Arena, including the great Robert Jaworski who arrived midway in the third, celebrated Ginebra’s second straight trip to the finals where it will face San Miguel in a series that starts on Friday at the same venue.
It will be fifth meeting between the two San Miguel Corporation franchise – perhaps two of the most famous teams in the PBA. The Beermen, who held the league’s best record after the eliminations clash with a Ginebra team that placed just seventh but peaked in the game’s that mattered.
“It was a real team effort, as a coach you enjoy it when everybody contributes,” said Ginebra coach Tim Cone, who will make his 37th finals appearance of his storied career.
Mercado topscored with 23 points, LA Tenorio had 21 points, four rebounds and five assists while Aguilar added 19 for Ginebra, which seemed to have played with more energy than in the previous six games.
It was evident right from the get-go when Aguilar scored the game’s first four points followed by a Devance basket, 9:24 remaining, that forced Star to a quick timeout. Mercado and Thompson joined the fray to build that 21-7 lead on the latter’s split from the charity stripe, 2 ½ minutes left.
The Beermen, meanwhile, prepare for their biggest battle yet as they aim to become the latest team to win their third straight championship in the Philippine Cup, a feat rarely done in the pro league’s 42-year history.
Should they beat either Barangay Ginebra San Miguel or the Star Hotshots – both sister teams – in the best-of-seven title series which starts on Friday, SMB will join the 2011-13 Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters as the only teams to capture a three-peat in the PBA’s premier conference.
It will also give the Beermen the distinction of owning the Philippine Cup’s perpetual trophy, a privilege given to teams that wins the tournament three years in a row.
“Gusto namin makuha ’yung perpetual trophy, history ’yun di ba?” said Beermen center June Mar Fajardo, favored to win the Best Player of the Conference award. “Gusto ko mapabilang sa history, kasi di natin alam kailan babalik ’yung opportunity na ’yun e, nandito na kami binigyan na kami ng opportunity.
“Sayang naman kung makawala. Di naman namin sinasabi na makukuha namin, pero gagawin namin lahat, ibibigay namin lahat para makuha namin,” added the 6-foot-10 gentle giant.
GINEBRA 89 – Mercado 23, Tenorio 21, Aguilar 19, Thompson 10, Devance 7, Cruz 6, Ferrer 2, Marcelo 1, Caguioa 0, Ellis 0.
STAR 76 – Maliksi 22, Pingris 17, Ramos 14, Barroca 8, Reavis 5, Lee 4, Jalalon 4, Melton 2, Simon 0, Sangalang 0, De la Rosa 0.
Quarters: 26-16; 45-36; 65-61; 89-76.