MANILA, Philippines -- Stanley Pringle led the team in scoring and Scottie Thompson was the hero in the endgame, but Barangay Ginebra would not have won Game 2 of the PBA Philippine Cup Finals without the contributions of Aljon Mariano.
The fifth-year veteran poured in 20 points for the Gin Kings against TNT Tropang Giga on Wednesday night, 10 of which came in the third quarter which saw Ginebra claw their way back from a 15-point deficit.
He added nine rebounds and an assist, but for Coach Tim Cone, his most important contribution was injecting a dose of toughness into the squad that lacked that quality for the bulk of their game against TNT.
"Aljon took over the game for us because we needed toughness, and he's a tough guy," said Cone after they came away with a 92-90 win over the Tropang Giga. "I love that term, tough guy. I think he's really a tough guy."
Cone called Mariano's contributions to the game "exceptional," given the struggles of his other stars. Japeth Aguilar, who was their ace in Game 1, was limited to just six points and five rebounds. Before he hit the go-ahead triple with 30 seconds to go, Thompson was scoreless, and he finished with more turnovers (six) than points (three).
Even LA Tenorio, the veteran who took over down the stretch of the series opener on Sunday, was off for most of the game. He finished with five points -- all coming off free throws in the final seconds of the contest.
With Pringle as the only other Ginebra player in double-digits (34 points), the Gin Kings needed all of Mariano's contributions.
"He played with the toughness that we needed tonight. We really needed someone to step up and make the tough plays, and be a physical presence out there," said Cone. "He doesn't back down to anybody. And that's why we love him so much."
"We needed a tough guy in the game today because we weren't playing with a lot of toughness tonight. We were really lacking toughness. And Aljon just took over for us," he added.
When TNT trailed by 15 points in the third quarter, Mariano conspired with Pringle to bring the Gin Kings back in the game. He showed no fear of TNT veteran Harvey Carey, at one point blowing by the burly forward for lay-up and drawing a foul. He completed the three-point play that put Ginebra within five points, 63-58.
"He (Mariano) made a couple of big moves on his own, real strong moves that kind of lifted the whole team," said Cone. "And that's what Aljon does for us. He's that tough guy that comes out on the floor, plays through everything."
Mariano, for his part, said he simply wanted to make up for some poor performances in the past games. He's been held to single digits in scoring in the Gin Kings' past five games, including a six-point outing in Game 1 of the FInals.
"Past games medyo masama nilalaro ko. So I want to be more aggressive on both sides of the floor," he explained. "So 'yun lang siguro, mas nag-focus ako ngayon, and trabaho talaga."
"Lumabas lang, 'yung points extra lang, talagang trabaho sa depensa, energy, hustle, lahat ng pwedeng gawin, basta manalo kami," he added.
Through two games, Mariano is Ginebra's third-leading scorer in the Finals, with averages of 13 points and 8.5 rebounds per contest.