Barangay Ginebra finally found answers in their endgame woes as they managed to hold on the Star Hotshots this time, 73-62, and trimmed their deficit to 2-1 in the best-of-seven PBA Philippine Cup semifinal at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay.
Consecutively denied a victory in their past two games, the ‘never-say-die’ Kings leave Star no chance to steal the win down the stretch as a 23-11 fourth quarter surge allowed them to end the Hotshots’ eight-game winning streak and more importantly, to avoid falling into a 0-3 hole.
Ginebra’s defense held the Hotshots to only two points in the final 5:57 mark of the game, leading them to a much-needed victory in this series that also saw them forcing Star into their lowest-scoring output of the season.
Ginebra can now tie the series when they play Star in the Game Four on Wednesday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Sol Mercado played the hero role for Ginebra, finishing with 16 points, none bigger than the two 3-pointers he had midway through the final frame, two rebounds, and six assists. Mercado’s second triple gave the Kings a 70-60 lead with three minutes left.
Mark Caguioa also lived up to his nickname “The Spark,” contributing eight crucial points in 12 quality minutes that sparked and suddenly woke his teammates up when Star got back into the game in the third period.
Japeth Aguilar added 15 points, 13 rebounds, and four blocks.
“I thought this would be a defensive battle, but both teams are just bleeding for points,” said Ginebra coach Tim Cone. “It’s not that we’re bad on offense, it’s just really hard defense.”
Hard-nosed basketball, indeed.
Both teams played see-saw battle for most of the game, but Ginebra broke loose of the tightly-contested match right after Mercado drilled a trey with 4:44 remaining to give the Kings a 64-60 lead.
6-foot-0 guard Scottie Thompson then rejected a Rafi Reavis’ shot on the next possession, leading to an Aguilar’s triple as Ginebra led 67-60.
Shortly after, Mercado hit another triple, and LA Tenorio connected on the technical free throw called against Star’s head coach Chito Victolero to give the Kings some breathing room, 71-60, with 1:54 left.
After missing the Kings’ last three games due to a tear on the plantar fasciitis in his left foot, Joe Devance finally returned to Ginebra’s lineup and quickly made his impact to score six points and six rebounds in 18 minutes of action off the bench.
Marc Pingris led Star with a double-double of 12 points and 18 rebounds but unfortunately for the Hotshots, no other player scored in double digits. Paul Lee, who was Ginebra’s tormentor in Games 1 and 2, was limited to just seven points on a dismal 3 of 13 shooting.
Ginebra zoomed to a hot start and led 21-10 after first, but the Hotshots clawed back and trimmed Ginebra’s lead to just 33-29 at the break. –Julian Rikki Reyes