Meralco and Barangay Ginebra will clash 7 p.m. today in Game 1 of the best-of-seven finals of the of Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Season 41 Governor’s Cup at the Araneta Coliseum.
Meralco coach Norman Black who previously led San Miguel Beer, the now defunct Sta. Lucia Realty and Talk ‘N Text to titles said that most fans see the Bolts as underdogs facing the formidable Gin Kings.
“It’s nice to be in the finals for the first time with the Meralco team,” Black told The Manila Times via text message. “I’m sure most people will consider us the underdog team but I can assure you we will be ready to play.”
Black was also credited for leading Ateneo De Manila University’s to five straight University Athletic Association of the Philippines men’s basketball title during his collegiate coaching years from 2005 to 2012.
The Bolts, who thumped sister team Talk ‘N Text in three games in the best-of-five semifinals, will be relying on import Allen Durham who registered an average of 29.4 points, 15.2 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.4 blocks in the last 17 games.
He will be supported by forward Cliff Hodge who had an average of 13.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks, and rookie Chris Newsome with 13.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists in the last 17 games.
Locals Reynel Hugnatan and Jimmy Alapag are also expected to step up as they challenge Barangay Ginebra.
Black believes that defense would play an important role if they would survive the Gin Kings, “Defense will probably be the key to the series because the only way to beat a good defensive team like Ginebra is to defend them well. Both teams have very good imports so the performance of the local players will be very important. I have a lot of respect for coach Tim (Cone) and I’m expecting the series to be competitive.”
After losing to Talk ‘N Text in the semifinals opener, the Bolts won straight the succeeding three games to secure their first finals appearance since joining the league in 2010, when Meralco bought the Sta. Lucia Realty franchise.
Jared Dillinger, who’s still nursing a hamstring injury said that his team is bent on giving Ginebra a tough fight, “The doctors are doing everything to heal me, it’s a day-to-day [progress]. I think that the media and the fans are expecting Ginebra to win but we’re going to battle [them].”
But the heavy favorite Ginebra won’t stop at anything to bag its first title since winning the 2008 Fiesta Conference title.
“It’s been eight years. We expect a tough battle against Meralco. It’s going to be a special treat to the fans,” said Jay-Jay Helterbrand who was with the team during the 2008 championship.
Ginebra dethroned defending champion San Miguel Beer in the do-or-die Game 5 of the semifinals on Tuesday.
“I don’t think they are expecting us to win, the fans are hoping us to win,” said Cone, who just booked his 30th finals appearance in the PBA.
“The real X-factor here is Jimmy (Alapag). He’s going to get his guys going. Their coach and their players, they’re very experienced.”
Import Justin Brownlee, who averaged 29.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists in the last 16 games, will lead Ginebra with the help of veteran Mark Caguioa, Helterbrand, rookie Earl Scottie Thompson, Solomon Mercado, Joe Devance, Japeth Aguilar and LA Tenorio.
“I want to win it for the fans,” said Caguioa. “They deserve this more than us.”