This Day in PBA History: Ginebra rallies from 3-1 deficit to beat Shell for title

Rey Joble

Posted at May 19 2022 09:36 PM | Updated as of May 19 2022 11:22 PM

Before San Miguel Beer completed the “Beeracle”, the greatest ever comeback completed in a best-of-seven championship series was made possible by Ginebra San Miguel, the first team in PBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit in a finals duel.

On this day, May 19, 1991, the Gin Kings completed their remarkable comeback when they pulled off a dramatic 104-102 victory over Shell Rimula X in Game 7 of the PBA First Conference finals.

Rudy Distrito drove hard to the basket and took a hail-mary shot against the outstretched arms of Benjie Paras. The basket sent the full-house crowd inside the ULTRA in a frenzy as history unfolded.

Paras recalled the shot that eluded him and created history for Ginebra, typifying the team’s never-say-die spirit.

But for the league’s only rookie-MVP winner, the series was decided not just by that shot but the inability of his team to close out the Gin Kings. 

“Nangyayari kasi parati, every time that you’re leading, the tendency is you wanted to finish the game right away. Parang we didn’t want to play the game, we just wanted to finish it. So ’yung focus, nawawala to win the championship. Sa tingin ko ’yun ang nangyari,” Paras said in a previous interview with this writer. 

“Based on my experience, when you’re in the finals, even when you’re leading in a championship game, or maski nga sa ordinary game, you don’t stop. Kailangan hanggang matapos.”

But Paras recovered from that heartbreaking loss and a year after, his Shell Rimula X team vented its frustration against the San Miguel Beermen to win the title of the same tournament. 

“Medyo madali naman ako naka-move on doon. Kasi matatabunan rin naman ’yun ng ibang games. Big lesson lang talaga ’yun,” he added.

The Turbochargers were on the brink of dispatching the Gin Kings early in the series after a tough 127-125 overtime victory in Game 4, coach Arlene Rodriguez and his troops appeared on the verge of repeating against the team it defeated a year earlier in a series marred by a walkout.

But Ginebra battled back in Game 5 and came out with a vengeance, winning 116-90, as a torrid 32-0 run took the fight out of the Turbochargers.

In Game 6, import Jervis Cole presided over the Gin Kings’ offense, scoring 51 points and powering Ginebra to a 123-119 victory to set up the winner-take-all showdown.

Ginebra assistant coach Rino Salazar said there was no way Ginebra would slow down after coming back from the grave. 

“Sa championship series, it’s more on mental. You need to concentrate on the game, the game plan. We just took it one game at a time. We were down by two games and needed to win the next three. We got the first one, then the second. Shell had a good team. They put pressure on themselves when we won two in a row and tied the series at 3-3, there’s no looking back,” Salazar said.

Ginebra veteran guard Leo Isaac was assigned one of the more difficult tasks during the championship series.

“Assigned ako noon to stop Ronnie Magsanoc. May isang game na na-limit ko si Ronnie to four or six points,” Isaac said.

Cole thus became more of a believer of Ginebra’s never-say-die spirit.

“I had no clue we’ll be able to win the game. I had no clue that we’ll be able to do it in a fashion that we did. When Rudy went to the hole, my mind was saying ‘Oh, no, no, no.’ But then he made it and I said, ‘That was great.’ I was super happy. It takes a lot of balls to take that shot. That’s why he’s ‘The Destroyer.’ So he did really well, putting us on his shoulders,” Cole recalled.

Distrito made the biggest basket, but Cole thought it wasn’t over yet until they come up with a big stop.

Cole was ready for Magsanoc – one of the biggest thorns on the side of Ginebra – to deliver a potential game-winning shot, but the import was at the right place at the right time to swat his 3-point attempt.

“I remember that shot of the Shell guard. I made sure that this guy is not going to make this shot. I left my man in the paint and jumped as high as I could to block the shot and the game was over. It capped a tremendous season, a tremendous comeback and I’m just blessed to play with a team that has the fortitude to come back,” he added.

For Distrito, it was a career-defining moment.

He was a role player for the most part of his career, but it was with Ginebra where he was given a share of the spotlight.

“Kay Coach Jaworski talaga kami nabuhay,” said Distrito. “Eh sino ba naman ang mga players namin, halos wala kang matatawag na talagang superstar maliban kay Coach Sonny. Pero binigyan niya kami ng pagkakataon.”

Because of his heroics, Ginebra players became more valuable in the free agent market, as the following year, key players of the squad started to attract more suitors from other squad.

Even Salazar, Jaworski’s most trusted deputy, would leave to assume a head-coaching job at Shell, which he would lead to a championship in the 1992 Open Conference.

As for Distrito, he would join Swift where he became part of the champion teams of 1992 Third Conference and 1993 Commissioner’s Cup, both under head coach Yeng Guiao.

He won his last championship in the 1995 All-Filipino under then head coach Derrick Pumaren, but he couldn’t complete the campaign after he was banned for life for tackling Jeff Cariaso in midair.

But for diehard Ginebra fans, Distrito’s heroics won’t be forgotten and he would be forever be part of the league’s history in one of the greatest comeback wins in a championship series.