When Barangay Ginebra and Meralco battled in the PBA Governors’ Cup finals last year, the series was so close all but 1 of the 6 games were decided by 5 points or less.
There’s little indication things will be different in the sequel.
The two clubs meet again for the title, with Game 1 of the best-of-7 series beginning at Quezon Convention Center in Lucena city on Friday.
Tipoff is at 7 p.m.
“The last time around, I felt we’re taking in the moment as first-timers in the finals,” said Meralco guard Chris Newsome, whose team topped the elimination round with a 9-2 record and is 13-3 so far including a sweep of Star in the semifinals.
“I thought this time around, it's gonna be different. We’ve had the whole year to prepare for this. This time around, it's not just being in the championship, we're here to win it.”
Last year, Allen Durham led Meralco to a 114-109 victory in overtime against higher-ranked Ginebra in Game 1.
With an important addition this tournament, Ginebra hopes to produce a different result in Friday’s series opener.
The return of Greg Slaughter has given the defending champions a clear advantage in size. After the semifinals, Ginebra ranks second in rebounding and first in blocked shots.
But this isn’t the same inexperienced Meralco team Ginebra faced 12 months ago.
On July 23, the only time the two teams met in this conference so far, Durham and Meralco showed they were clearly over the heartbreaking finals defeat, dismantling Ginebra 93-78, Slaughter’s first game since being sidelined for 10 months because of a torn ACL.
The Bolts have acquired veteran forward Ranidel de Ocampo and Gilas Pilipinas player Mike Tolomia since that win.
Coupled with a healthy Jared Dillinger, who didn’t see action in last year’s finals because of an injury, and Baser Amer maturing as his team’s top playmaker, Meralco boasts of depth on the wing and in the backcourt.
“We couldn't have picked a higher-quality opponent,” said Ginebra coach Tim Cone, whose team topped Meralco in 6 games to win last year's championship.
“They have all the bases covered. They’re the most dominant team in the conference, and that's the challenge out there for us.”
Ginebra needs Justin Brownlee, now part of Ginebra lore for the 3-point shot heard ’round the country, to go off if it hopes to have a chance against Meralco.
He struggled in the July 23 game, scoring only 13 points on 5-of-15 shooting, while Durham finished with 30 points, 24 rebounds and 9 assists.
Ginebra ranks No. 2 in the league in points scored, while Meralco is first in points allowed.
While his squad thrives in high-scoring games, Cone believes this series will be physical and like last year close.
“It’s gonna be tough, and it’s gonna be rough," he said.
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