MANILA, Philippines – Justin Brownlee will forever live in Barangay Ginebra lore for his championship-winning three-pointer in last season's PBA Governors' Cup Finals, and since then, he's proven to be an excellent crunch time option for the Gin Kings.
But against Rain or Shine last Friday, Brownlee was uncharacteristically shaky in the clutch, giving up a steal to Jericho Cruz that pushed the Elasto Painters ahead, 114-111, and then hoisting up an ill-advised shot just a possession later.
Ginebra lost 118-112, and despite his 38-point output, Brownlee was hard on himself after his performance.
"He felt that he took a bad shot at the end of the game," Ginebra coach Tim Cone said of Brownlee two nights later. "He texted me and apologized, he apologized to the players."
"I said, 'With the good stuff you've done, you're allowed to do one bad one.' And he made up for it tonight, certainly. He certainly made up for it tonight," he added.
Indeed, just 48 hours later, Brownlee was back to his old reliable self. With the San Miguel Beermen threatening to erase what was once a 20-point Ginebra lead, Brownlee went to work in crunch time. After SMB cut the deficit to three points, 90-93, Brownlee converted a fallaway jumper, then drew a crucial foul on Chris Ross in transition and coolly made both free throws.
He finished with 34 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, three steals, and four blocks in a huge 107-99 victory for Ginebra.
"He just made big shots, big defensive plays down the stretch, and that's been his MO for us," Cone said.
Brownlee acknowledged after the game that he did want to make up for his subpar crunch time play in their previous game.
"I think down the stretch (against Rain or Shine), I made some bad decisions. I owned to coach, and I just tried, in this game, to be more focused," he said. "I focused on the game plan. I did a really good job, we did a great job, and we came away with the win tonight."
It was not just him, however. Brownlee stressed that the entire Ginebra squad "showed great character" in bouncing back from what had been a painful loss. The Gin Kings led by as much as 16 points against Rain or Shine before collapsing in the fourth period, and made sure not to commit the same mistakes against San Miguel.
"Taking from the loss on Friday, we just learned a lot from it," Brownlee said. "Just trying to have more of a complete game today."
"I think there were stretches where we allowed San Miguel to get their rhythm. But I think through the course of the game, we really did a good job of maintaining composure when they made runs," he added. "Just staying together, I think that was very helpful tonight – using our teamwork to the best of our advantage."
Thanks to their win on Sunday, Ginebra improved to 6-2 in the PBA Commissioner's Cup, and thus remained on track for a Top 2 finish that carries a twice-to-beat edge in the quarterfinals.
"I just hope we could keep this momentum," said Brownlee. "I'm trying not to look forward to the Finals, just trying to take it one game at a time. Hopefully, we could get to that point."
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