MANILA, Philippines – For Ginebra head coach Tim Cone, their impressive 113-98 victory over Star in the Manila Clasico on Sunday meant so much more than just adding one more mark to their win column in the 2017 PBA Commissioner's Cup.
Ginebra made the decision to roll with Justin Brownlee as their import for the midseason conference, even though they knew that he will be undersized compared to many of the other reinforcements in the league.
Yet on Sunday, against an unbeaten Star team that featured a high-flying, energetic import in Tony Mitchell, it was Brownlee's versatility and shot-making that shone above all else, as he completely outplayed his Star counterpart down the stretch to lead Ginebra to victory.
"It's satisfying to beat a quality, elite team like Star has become," said Cone. "Even though we're playing with a small import, it just sends a good message to us and to the players that it can be done."
"We can compete in this conference with Justin," Cone added emphatically.
At 6-foot-7, Brownlee stood just a shade shorter than Mitchell, who was measured at 6-foot-8. Yet his familiarity with his Ginebra teammates and his ability to guard multiple positions on defense worked wonders for the Gin Kings, especially in the crucial third frame where they battled back from a 12-point deficit.
In the final quarter, Brownlee went to work on offense, showing a variety of moves including a deft touch from the perimeter to put Ginebra firmly in control.
"Justin causes a lot of problems with people," Cone noted. "He can play in and out, handle the ball, make great passes, and he's a good defender. He's kind of playing the way we envisioned him to play when we brought him in."
Cone acknowledged that because Brownlee is smaller compared to the other imports, they will always be giving up a mismatch on defense, but on the flipside, he can also get mismatches on offense.
"It's really about who's gonna win those match-ups," said Cone. "Tonight, we won those match-ups."
Ginebra's legion of fans will always consider Brownlee a hero for leading the team to victory in the 2016 PBA Governors' Cup, and they welcomed him back with open arms when he was tabbed as their import for the Commissioner's Cup.
Yet Brownlee is also aware that there were those who questioned Ginebra's decision to bring him back, and he believes they answered those questions on Sunday.
"I think this game definitely proved something to the league," Brownlee said. "I didn't hear it too much, but I'm sure a lot of people questioned us, about me playing as a small import against the other bigger imports."
"I think this game was definitely a statement for us," he stressed.
Cone agreed. "I think coming in, everybody was kind of doubting: 'Can we do this?' Tonight, maybe some of the doubters will jump on the bandwagon with us," he said.
Of course, there will be more challenges down the road. Cone knows that they still have to play against teams with bigger imports, like Meralco and its hulking reinforcement, Alex Stepheson.
"Mitchell was a little bit undersized considering some of the other imports, so we were able to match up to him a little better," Cone said. "Still, we like what we're doing. We like our chances out there as long as we stay focused and concentrated."
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