Cruz, Aguilar power Ginebra past Star to tie series, 2-2

Ginebra kept attacking Star’s interior defense and drawing fouls.

And suddenly, the “Manila Classico” semifinals edition is all tied up at 2-2.

Barangay Ginebra shot 22 of 33 free throws and rode Jervy Cruz and Japeth Aguilar’s big games down the stretch as they held on to beat the Star Hotshots, 93-86, and draw their heated best-of-seven semifinal series in the 2017 PBA Philippine Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, Wednesday.

Cruz took advantage of the little defense brought by the Hotshots against him, scoring 12 of his game-high 21 points in the second half before Aguilar took over in the final canto to finish with 18 points.

The 30-year old Cruz added six rebounds in 27 minutes of faultless action as a starter. Aguilar had 10 rebounds as he bounced back after a lethargic first half to lead Ginebra into their second straight win over Star.

Sol Mercado and rookie Kevin Ferrer also contributed big as they finished with nine timely points apiece, while 6-foot-0 guard Scottie Thompson soared above everyone else on the court and grabbed 14 caroms.

“Mentality kolangtalaganamaging aggressive saloob ng court. Every time naipasokakoni coach, gusto ko mag-contribute, kahitkaunting minutes lang. So yun, talagang gusto kolangmanalo,” said Cruz, who capped his outstanding performance with an and-one off an Aguilar’s dish with 20 seconds left.

“Sabini coach, hanapinlagisi LA (Tenorio) kasi kayo rinangmao-open once nanagbigay kayo ng pick kay LA. ‘Yung taoniyo, maghe-help, so kayo din mao-open,” he added.

LA Tenorio mustered eight points, four rebounds and five assists in 36 minutes.

Ginebra pulled away from a tightly-contested match only in the final frame, where an 8-2 run in the first two minutes of the canto helped them built a lead of 73-64 before hanging tough to get the victory.

Star, which struggled from the 3-point line by going 5 of 24, managed to trim the deficit to just four, 73-77, behind Rafi Reavis and Marc Pingris’ hustle plays but the Kings quickly answered with another 8-2 run to lead 85-75, with three minutes left.

“The game was again dictated by the defense of both teams, but we just came out on top,” said Ginebra’s head coach Tim Cone. “I thought our guys had great resolve today.”

AlleinMaliksi led Star with 18 points, while JioJalalon added 16, but the Hotshots failed to fight Ginebra’s defense off which forced them to 17 turnovers and only nine assists.

Reavis had 13 points and 11 boards for Star, while Marc Pingris came one-point shy of a double-double with nine points and 13 rebounds.Paul Lee struggled for the second straight time, finishing with just nine points on 4 of 14 shooting while committing six turnovers and five fouls.

Mark Barroca played just 19 minutes as he fouled out with over eight minutes left in the game. He had four points.
Both teams will try to move a step closer to a finals appearance when they battle on Friday for the Game Five at the Mall of Asia Arena. –Julian Rikki Reyes

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