PBA: No reason to relax for Cone, Ginebra despite series lead

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 15 2020 11:01 PM

MANILA, Philippines -- Even a 3-1 lead in the finals against the Meralco Bolts is of no comfort to Barangay Ginebra head coach Tim Cone, who still has vivid memories of a former team of his squandering such a lead.

The Gin Kings closed in on the 2019 PBA Governors' Cup crown on Wednesday after a comfortable 94-72 rout of the Bolts, the first time in the series that a game was decided by double digits. Ginebra got it done by limiting Meralco to just 37% shooting from the field, including only 3-of-26 from long range.

Yet Cone knows there is no guarantee that they will clinch the title on Friday's Game 5.

"I would love it if it did, but no, I don't think so. I mean, we will try our best, obviously," said Cone.

"But you know, this team has shown a lot of character in the past when we played them.”

Cone noted that in the 2017 Governors' Cup Finals, they claimed a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series against Meralco, only for the Bolts to win the next two games. The series eventually went the distance, with Ginebra ekeing out a 101-96 win in Game 7.

Moreover, Cone is the first to point out that he has squandered a 3-1 lead in a series before. Back when he was still coaching the Alaska Aces, they took a 3-1 lead over Purefoods in the semifinals of the 2006 Philippine Cup, only for the then-Chunkee Giants to win the last three games of the series.

"I lost it to Ryan Gregorio and Purefoods, and I'll never forget that," said Cone, who would ironically go on to coach Purefoods in his career, even steering the franchise to a Grand Slam.

"It was in the semifinals, we were up 3-1, and I think that's only happened a few times in PBA history, and it happened to the team I coached," he added. "So I'm well aware that a team can come back."

"You just can't give them the momentum and the confidence that they'll be searching for. So, we're gonna have to go out and try to make a statement early in Game 5."

This, he knows, will be easier said than done. Cone fully expects Ginebra to come out "with a lot of fire" in Game 5, as another loss would spell the end of their campaign.

They managed to match Meralco's intensity in Game 4, and eventually Justin Brownlee took charge in the second quarter to spark the Gin Kings' breakaway. Cone said his crew must have the same mindset come Game 5.

"We're trying to prevent that big first quarter from them, and that's something we're gonna have to do in Game 5, because that's where they grab their momentum and their confidence," he said.

"Like I said, they've done all conference long, the stats are very glaring in that regard. So that's something we've been conscious of and trying to prevent.”