Ginebra survives Star in Game 7 to arrange title duel vs SMB

There’s no need for another three years or more before Ginebra could step on another PBA finals floor.
All that they need is a strong start and a stronger finish to annex their PBA Governors’ Cup finals appearance last year to a back-to-back.

Barangay Ginebra went off to a hot start, and rode Sol Mercado’s timely baskets in their finishing surge to survive the Star Hotshots, 89-76, in the deciding Game Seven of their 2017 PBA Philippine Cup semifinals and get the last ticket for the finals at the Mall of Asia Arena, Tuesday.

Seventh-seeded Ginebra almost squandered a lead that went as high as 15 points, but Mercado rose to the occasion and drilled numerous 3-pointers in the second half that put douse of cold water on Star’s attempted rallies as the Kings survived their fourth elimination game of the season to set up a finals date with defending champions San Miguel.

Ginebra and the top-seededBeermen begin their final duel on Friday at the same venue. This will be the fourth timethat both teams meet in a PBA Finals and first since the 2009 Fiesta Conference.

Mercado finished with a conference-high 23 points, including 4 of 6 shooting from beyond the arc, and added four rebounds, and five assists to lead Ginebra into their first back-to-back finals appearance since the 2004 PBA Fiesta Conference and the 2004-05 PBA Philippine Cup.

During the last year’s Governors’ Cup, the Kings played their first ever finals since the 2012-13 Commissioners’ Cup after beating the Beermen in five games of their Best-of-Five semifinals series before ending an eight-year title drought with 4-2 series victory over Meralco.

Now in clinching another finals ticket,the ‘never-say-die’ Kings had to overcome first a twice-to-win disadvantage against second-seed Alaska, an early 0-2 and 2-3 holes against the Hotshots, before walking away in the most-important Game Seven behind Mercado, LA Tenorio, Japeth Aguilar, and young gun Scottie Thompson.

Tenorio, who was outplayed by his backcourt counterparts for most of the series, had the last laugh in their head-to-head matchups, capping the “Manila Classico” with 21 points on 3 of 4 shooting from the 3-point line, four boards, and five assists in 35 minutes.

Aguilar also soared above anyone else, scoring 19 points on a very efficient 8 of 10 shooting, and five caroms. The 5-foot-11 Thompson flirted with a double-double as he finished with 10 points and nine rebounds in 40 minutes.

“Sometimes, it can really be tough leading in those games because the pressure falls on you now, the expectations are on you to win, and you end up trying to be a little bit careful and play not to lose, but our guys did a good job of pushing and pushing, and battling and battling,” said Ginebra coach Tim Cone, who is now on to his 31st finals appearance as a coach.

“Seven-game Manila Clasico – who could ask for more?” he added.

Despite a slow start, Star managed to claw back into the game behind the third quarter sizzling of Allein Maliksi, who drilled 12 straight points in that quarter alone, to spark a Hotshots’ rally that trimmed Ginebra’s lead to just three, 62-59.

But in front of the 20,221 crowd that includes the outset of the ‘never-say-die’ mantra Robert Jaworski, Mercado drilled a trey to put the Kings up by six, 65-59, with 31 seconds left in the third and sparked an opening 15-6 Ginebra run in the final canto to get the lead back at 13, 80-67.

Maliksi top scored the Hotshots with 22 points, but failed to contribute in the final canto where Star were limited to just 15 points.
Marc Pingris had 17 points, eight rebounds, and six assists, while Aldrech Ramos added 14 points off the bench. –Julian Rikki Reyes

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