Barangay Ginebra San Miguel head coach Tim Cone said Meralco is hungrier and deadlier when both teams clash in a finals rematch in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Season 42 Governors Cup, which starts on Friday in Lucena City.
One year after beating Meralco in six games of the same tournament punctuated by the buzzer-beating triple of Ginebra import Justin Brownlee, Ginebra braces for a tougher series as the Bolts are expected to go all out to avenge their heart-breaking finals loss and win their first PBA title.
“Meralco is really motivated right now and they really want to come out (as champions) with the way they talk. They want to send a message to us. They have size, length and quickness,” said Cone, who is gunning for his 20th overall PBA title, during the finals news conference on Tuesday.
Meralco is returning to the finals with a recharged roster, led by import Allen Durham and key acquisitions Ranidel de Ocampo and Garvo Lanete. Jarred Dillinger, who missed last year’s finals duel due to hamstring injury, finally gets his shot to beat the Gin Kings in the finals.
As for Ginebra, Greg Slaughter is the fresh face in the best-of-seven championship series after missing last season due to an ACL injury.
“We will stay to what we know and we go out and play. We make adjustments as the series goes,” added Cone, who is gunning for his 20th PBA jewel.
Bolts head coach Norman Black knew his team has a better chance now to bag the franchise’s first title.
And the image of Brownlee sinking the game-winning trey in Game 6 is still there in their minds but he said Meralco has moved on from that nightmare and welcomes another opportunity.
“I live for the moment and the moment is right now. I cannot bring back the past. We are just thinking about this championship right now,” said Black, who like Cone is a Grand Slam mentor.
“We acquired a lot of shooters this season. It is something that we didn’t have last year. We just relied on Jimmy Alapag’s three-point shooting but now we surrounded AD (Allen Durham) with a lot of shooters and we improved in that area,” added Black, who is gunning for his 12th PBA crown.
Meralco and Ginebra entered the finals in contrasting fashions with the Bolts sweeping Star while Gin Kings had to endure TNT KaTropa in four grueling matches in their best-of-five semifinal series.
Slaughter, one of the candidates for the Best Player of the Conference award, expressed readiness to help the franchise win its 25th PBA title.
“I always dream about this moment. It’s very exciting and there are a lot of things that I’m thinking but I want to keep my focus now [in this series],” said the seven-footer center.
Kings combo guard Scottie Thompson admitted that the addition of De Ocampo and Lanete made Meralco a dangerous squad in the series.
“We are going to enjoy this series although they are tougher now compared last year since they have RDO (De Ocampo) and Lanete,” said Thompson.
Brownlee predicted the series would go to distance.
“Two great teams, two great coaches. It will be a long tough series,” said Brownlee, who lost to Durham in last season’s Best Import derby. Brownlee and Durham are candidates anew for the Bobby Parks trophy.
Durham said he’s ready for the battle and his health won’t be an issue in the series.
“My ankle is not an issue. We want to finish it this year and can’t wait until Friday,” said Durham, who injured his ankle in Game 3 against the Hotshots.
Meanwhile, Meralco team manager Paolo Trillo said they are dedicating the series to team governor Al Panlilio, who is fighting a serious illness.
“He (Panlilio) just arrived from the United States and he’s getting better every day. We will use this as a motivation to win the title. He always watched us during games,”’ said Trillo.