MANILA (UPDATED) - Barangay Ginebra is one win away from the Finals of the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup after holding off the Meralco Bolts, 91-84, in Game 3 of their semifinal series on Sunday night at the AUF Gym in Angeles City, Pampanga.
The Gin Kings got off to a good start and led by as much as 25 points, but they still had to weather repeated comeback attempts by the Bolts late in the game to seize a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series.
Stanley Pringle rebounded from a poor performance in Game 2, putting up 24 points, including key buckets down the stretch to help Ginebra stay in control, along with nine points and six dimes. LA Tenorio had 12 points and four assists, and Japeth Aguilar bucked foul trouble to finish with 12 points and 13 boards.
It was a bounce back performance from the Gin Kings as a whole after their 95-77 setback to the Bolts in Game 2 last Friday.
"In Game 2, our expectation for ourselves got in the way. We just kinda showed up, and it worked well for us in the first half. But when they turned up the pressure, we just collapsed in the second half," Ginebra coach Tim Cone explained.
"Today, we came out with a lot more purpose," he added.
The Gin Kings set the tone right from the start as they scored 18 unanswered points in the opening quarter to turn what had been a 5-4 deficit into a massive 22-5 advantage. They led 27-12 after the first quarter, and eventually took a 25-point advantage, 37-12, off a triple by Tenorio with under 10 minutes left in the second quarter.
Meralco managed to bring down the deficit to seven points in the third period, the last of which was at 58-51 off a Cliff Hodge bucket. Pringle was there to answer, however, completing a three-point play that restored a double-digit advantage for the Gin Kings.
They entered the payoff period with a 12-point cushion, 64-52.
The Bolts continued to threaten in the fourth frame and trimmed the deficit to nine points, 79-70, with four minutes to go. Again, it was Pringle who came to the rescue, drilling a three-pointer to extend the lead to 12 points, 82-70. After Allein Maliksi fired a triple of his own, Pringle barreled his way to the hoop for a layup that gave them an 84-73 lead with over two minutes left.
"He (Pringle) was really dead tired down the stretch, but he knows he's our finisher," said Cone. "Teams know it but they just can't seem to find an answer for him, because he's really that talented."
Meralco still had a chance, thanks in part to Maliksi who hit another three-pointer that made it an eight-point game, 84-76, with 2:11 left. But it was the closest that they would get: Tenorio came up with a huge steal against Chris Newsome in the next possession, going all the way for a layup that made it 86-76.
Late buckets by Raymond Almazan, Newsome and Maliksi helped Meralco draw closer, but the Gin Kings had built enough of a cushion to withstand their last ditch rally.
Maliksi had 23 points to lead the way for the Bolts, but Newsome struggled for most of the game as he made just two of ten field goals to finish with 12 points. Almazan had 16 points and nine rebounds, while Hodge finished with 12 points, eight boards, and six assists.
Ginebra can wrap up the series on Wednesday's Game 4, still at the AUF Gym.