by Jonas Terrado
The stage is set for the Finals rematch 12 months in the making.
Barangay Ginebra San Miguel arranged another title duel with Meralco for the PBA Governors’ Cup crown after erasing an 18-point third quarter deficit and holding off TNT KaTropa’s valiant effort despite the early ejection of import Glen Rice Jr. for a 115-105 victory last night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Almost 12,000 fans at the Smart Araneta Coliseum witnessed Ginebra’s 3-1 semifinal series win over TNT, with import Justin Brownlee leading the rally from a 72-54 deficit with 28 of his 46 points in the second half to seal another showdown with a well-rested Meralco squad.
LA Tenorio had 25 points, seven assists and four rebounds, Greg Slaughter added 21 points and nine rebounds, Sol Mercado 11 points and Japeth Aguilar with six points, eight rebounds and three blocks to take control of the remaining minutes when the KaTropa’s went cold when it mattered.
“It was quite a frustrating first half, but our guys came collected in the second half and started playing like we do,” said Ginebra coach Tim Cone.
Ginebra and Meralco, which swept Star in the other semis pairing earlier this week, begin their Finals encounter Friday at the Quezon Convention Center in Lucena City, with both teams set to relive memories of last year’s title showdown that ended in thrilling fashion.
Brownlee’s buzzer-beating three ended Ginebra’s eight-year title drought, a moment that Bolts import Allen Durham is determined to avenge.
Troy Rosario scored 28 points and Jayson Castro put up 26 points but TNT ran out of steam after an impressive shooting exhibition that saw them take a 66-52 halftime lead despite Rice’s ejection late in the first quarter for shoving Kevin Ferrer that resulted in a flagrant foul and subsequently throwing the ball at the fallen Ginebra rookie in frustration.
A frustrated Rice immediately left the Big Dome minutes after, a sad ending to the stint of one of the conference’s premier reinforcements.
It appeared that the KaTropa were primed to send the series to a deciding fifth when Castro hit two free throws with 9:34 left in the third for that 72-54 lead. But Brownlee scored 14 in a row at one point while Tenorio and Slaughter made key baskets to trim the gap to 86-80 entering the fourth.
Seldom-used veteran Mark Caguioa gave Ginebra the lead for the first time since early in the game with a layup, 92-90, but TNT answered back to reclaim the driver seat, 94-92, before its offense sputtered.
GINEBRA 115 – Brownlee 46, Tenorio 25, Slaughter 21, Mercado 11, Aguilar 6, Ferrer 4, Caguioa 2, Thompson 0, Devance 0.
TNT KATROPA 105 – Rosario 28, Castro 26, Pogoy 14, Semerad 12, Williams 10, Tautuaa 9, Reyes 4, Rice Jr. 2, Golla 0, Carey 0, Nuyles 0, Hernandez 0, Seigle 0.
Quarters: 32-41; 52-66; 80-86; 115-105.