MANILA, Philippines -- Barangay Ginebra's coaches are pulling off a delicate balancing act when it comes to managing the minutes of star guard Stanley Pringle.
Pringle ranked 10th in the league in minutes played after the elimination round of the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup, as he averaged over 34 minutes per contest. That has increased in the playoffs where the Gin Kings count on Pringle to take charge for them down the stretch.
Against the Meralco Bolts on Sunday night, Pringle played over 38 minutes, finishing with 24 points, nine rebounds, and six assists.
Despite showing signs of exhaustion earlier in the contest, Pringle stepped up in a big way in the fourth period, where he put up nine points — including a run of five straight points in crunch time that kept Ginebra in control.
"We tried really hard to keep him fresh, you know," Ginebra coach Tim Cone said after the game. "We tried to take him out a number of times, give him a few breaks, but we didn't wanna extend the breaks beyond one or two minutes."
"We wanna make sure he could stay on the floor, but just kept getting good breaks," he added.
In Game 3, their tactic paid off as Pringle led them to a 91-84 win that gave them a 2-1 lead in the series. The Gin Kings led by as much as 25 points in the contest, but Meralco's repeated rallies meant that Pringle needed to be on the floor late in the game.
He responded with a clutch three-pointer and a layup that extended Ginebra's lead to 11 points late, before LA Tenorio and Japeth Aguilar put the finishing touches on the victory.
"He was really tired down the stretch," Cone said of Pringle. "But you know, he knows he's our finisher."
In the All-Filipino Cup, Pringle plays the role that Justin Brownlee assumes for Ginebra during import conferences. While they will run their plays and follow the game plan in the first 45 minutes of the game, when crunch time rolls around, they put the ball in Pringle's hands.
"It's gonna be Stanley, Stanley, Stanley, Stanley, you know, just like it was with Justin, Justin, Justin, Justin," said Cone, who added that this tactic wasn't exactly a secret from the other teams in the league.
"But," he added, "they just can't seem to find an answer for him because he's really that talented."
The onus is on the Ginebra coaching staff to make sure that Pringle will have enough left in his tank to take over down the stretch, said Cone. The multi-titled mentor said in jest that if it were up to him, Pringle would play all 48 minutes.
"I would never take him out," Cone said. "But you know, he's human, and he's gotta get his rest. So that's really on us, and not on him."
Pringle and the Gin Kings have two days to rest before taking on the Bolts again in Game 4 of their semifinals series on Wednesday at the Angeles University Foundation Gym in Angeles City, Pampanga. Another victory will put Ginebra in the finals of the All-Filipino Cup.
Pringle, who is averaging 17.3 points, 3.6 assists, and 6.7 rebounds against the Bolts, said they cannot get too caught up in trying to close out the series.
"We're just gonna try to focus on improving and not think about one more game," he said. "We just need to improve, keep executing, keep playing team defense."