PBA: Cone hails Ginebra's veteran poise amid furious Meralco fightback

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 18 2022 12:31 PM

Barangay Ginebra responded well to a big Meralco run in the fourth quarter of Game 5 of the 2021 PBA Governors' Cup Finals. PBA Images.
Barangay Ginebra responded well to a big Meralco run in the fourth quarter of Game 5 of the 2021 PBA Governors' Cup Finals. PBA Images.

MANILA, Philippines -- Barangay Ginebra coach Tim Cone called himself "really fortunate" to have a veteran squad after the Gin Kings weathered a fourth-quarter storm from the Meralco Bolts on Sunday night.

Ginebra was cruising to a comfortable victory in Game 5 of the 2021 PBA Governors' Cup finals, with an Arvin Tolentino layup putting them up by 14 points, 96-82, with under eight minutes left.

But a flurry of baskets from Meralco import Tony Bishop got the Bolts back in the game. A layup by Aaron Black with under five minutes to play capped a 15-2 Meralco run that made it a one-point game, 98-97.

"Bishop, he just willed them back into the game in that second half. Just willed them back in. We're doing everything we could, and he was knocking down 3s, and getting out in transition," Cone told reporters afterward.

"He was phenomenal in that second half, and that's what the great imports do. They find a way to get you back into the game," he added.

But it would be the closest that Meralco would get. Off a timeout, the Gin Kings scored seven unanswered points, capped by a huge three-pointer from Scottie Thompson to restore an eight-point lead, 105-97, with just 2:18 to play.

Bishop and Black tried to bring Meralco closer, but the Gin Kings had a response every time they cut into the deficit. Ginebra emerged with a 115-110 victory and a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.

"We talked about it during the timeout. Keeping our poise, and slowing it down a little bit," Cone said of their response to Meralco's big run. "We were able to get the ball to Justin [Brownlee] after the timeout, and he created a couple of shots for us."

"And then, earlier, Scottie hit the big 3 that gave us the breathing room down the stretch," he added. "But you know, I'm fortunate. I've got a team who understands things."

Even with the Bolts breathing down their necks, there was no panic for Ginebra, said Cone. For his players, this was a situation that they have already experienced before. 

"They've been through the wars, they're veterans. Even though Scottie's still young, but he's been through so many of these things before. They really know how to settle down, and they can think the game through," he said.

This veteran poise came through in the sequence that led to Thompson's dagger triple. LA Tenorio misfired on a three-pointer, but Thompson secured the offensive rebound over Meralco's Bishop in a moment that drew a huge cheer from the mostly pro-Ginebra crowd inside the Araneta Coliseum.

Off the repossession, Jeff Chan also missed a three-point attempt. This time, it was Christian Standhardinger who secured another opportunity for Ginebra, and they made the most of it: Tenorio fired a pass to Thompson who pulled up for the biggest three-pointer of the game.

"I'm just really fortunate that I have a veteran team that's been doing this stuff for a while. They handled it extremely well," said Cone.

Still, Cone acknowledged that they dodged a bullet against a determined Meralco squad, who overcame a blistering shooting night from the Gin Kings to make it a nip-and-tuck game down the stretch.

"It was one of those games that could have gone either way. One possession here or there, when it got down to [one point], it would have changed the whole complexion [of the game]," he said. "But again, guys made big shots, made big plays, made big shots."

"We scored 115 points against a really, really good Meralco defense, you know. They're the best defensive team in the league, and we scored 115 points. So that really tells you something about how well we shot the ball tonight," he added.

Ginebra can wrap up the series on Wednesday's Game 6, still at the Araneta Coliseum.