MANILA, Philippines – The Star Hotshots cruised without veteran forward Marc Pingris in their first four games of the 2017 PBA Commissioner's Cup, but they sorely felt the absence of their leader in their showdown against the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings on Sunday.
Pingris has yet to play in the midseason conference due to a hip injury, and without him, the Hotshots fell apart in the fourth quarter of their Manila Clasico game against Ginebra.
"Of course, mabigat sa pagkakawala ni Ping, hindi 'yung laro but 'yung leadership niya," Star coach Chito Victolero admitted after the Hotshots absorbed a 113-98 loss, their first setback of the conference.
"Kapag medyo nahihirapan kami na mag-settle down, si Ping ang taga-ayos namin," he explained. "He talks to everybody. 'Yun ang mabigat na nawala. Especially sa big crowd, alam niya how to talk to the players."
"'Yun ang nawala."
[We missed not just his game, but his leadership. Whenever we struggle to settle down, it's Pingris who works things out for us. He talks to everybody. We really felt his absence, especially in a game like this with a big crowd, where he knows how to talk to the other players.]
The Hotshots could have used Pingris' veteran leadership in the final six minutes of the game, when they were only down by five points but lost their composure amid a hail of shots from Ginebra import Justin Brownlee.
He could have helped in trying to calm down their own import, Tony Mitchell, who was the picture of frustration at the end of the game as he found himself on the receiving end of jeers from the primarily pro-Ginebra crowd at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Victolero did try to look at the bright side of things. Even with the loss, Star still has a solid 4-1 win-loss record, and the defeat to Barangay Ginebra should serve as a lesson to their team, especially to Mitchell.
"I think he learned a lot from this game," Victolero said of their import. "'Yun lang naman ang hinihingi namin, na matuto kami lahat para at least, pagdating ng important games, makuha namin."
[That's what we ask of our players, that we learn from these games so when the other important games come, then we can win.]
According to previous reports, Pingris may return when Star takes on San Miguel Beer on April 16.
(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.)