MANILA, Philippines – After his heroics against the Meralco Bolts in the 2016 PBA Governors' Cup, Justin Brownlee will always be a player that his coaches and teammates can count on during crunch time.
Against the Alaska Aces in the 2017 PBA Commissioner's Cup on Sunday at the Araneta Coliseum, Brownlee showed off his clutch gene anew, connecting on the and-1 play with 7.2 seconds left to lift the Gin Kings to a 103-102 victory.
What made it all the more impressive was that his bucket was not a designed play; Ginebra had ran out of timeouts with still three minutes left, and by Brownlee's own admission, they "freestyled" in the final possession.
Yet Ginebra coach Tim Cone was unsurprised to see Brownlee take charge in the most crucial moment of the game, not after seeing the import confidently drain the game-winning triple against Meralco in Game 6 of their best-of-seven Finals series last year.
"Justin made a great drive," Cone said after Ginebra had racked up its fifth straight win. "I think everybody thought that he was going to stop and pull up, and make that three again like he did against Meralco in the Finals."
"But he gave a little hesitation move and went hard at the rim and got a three-point play instead. That's just Justin being Justin," he said in an admiring tone. "He's just an intelligent player, so intelligent."
Brownlee, who finished with all-around numbers of 37 points, 14 rebounds, six assists, three steals, and four blocked shots, said afterward that he briefly contemplated pulling up for a triple, just as he did against Meralco.
However, he was tightly guarded by Alaska import Cory Jefferson, and thus Brownlee opted to drive instead.
"Cory was playing really good defense," said Brownlee. "He didn't allow me to pull up and shoot, so I had to just try and take it to the basket."
For Brownlee, his crunch time heroics was nothing special; he was simply doing his job as the team's import.
"I guess that's what I'm here for as an import. I think those are the moments where the import, not have to save the day or be a hero, but in those types of moments you have to be aggressive," he explained.
"I understand that I'm playing in this league as an import. In those moments, I just want to try and be aggressive and give my team the best opportunity to make a shot to win the game or make a defensive play," he added.
Cone had taken a gamble in playing the smaller Brownlee in a conference with taller imports, but Brownlee has so far not failed his coach. More than his on-court contributions, however, it is Brownlee's attitude off it that has truly impressed the Ginebra coach.
"He's so coachable," said Cone. "And he's such a great chemistry guy. Everybody in our team adores him. He gets along with everybody – Fil-Am, local, ball boy, it doesn't matter. He hangs out with everybody."
"The only guy I can ever compare him to that I've coached before in my career is Sean Chambers," added Cone, referring to the legendary Alaska import. "The two of them are very much alike in terms of that friendliness and chemistry, being able to get along with everybody, then coming out and playing hard every night."
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