MANILA, Philippines -- (2nd UPDATE) For the first time since the 2006-07 season, Barangay Ginebra is the king of the All-Filipino Cup.
The Gin Kings overcame a gritty effort by a severely undermanned TNT Tropang Giga squad, 82-78, to wrap up their Finals series in five games and claim the PBA Philippine Cup crown, Wednesday night at the AUF Gym in Angeles City, Pampanga.
Japeth Aguilar was superb, making eight of his 12 field goals for 32 points, tying his career-best. He carried the load for the Gin Kings for most of the game, before Stanley Pringle came alive in the fourth quarter to push them across the finish line.
LA Tenorio added 10 points and six assists, as he claimed his first All-Filipino Cup title in his 14th season in the PBA.
"When this thing started, we really didn't have a lot of expectations for ourselves," said Ginebra coach Tim Cone, who won his 23rd PBA title and his first All-Filipino crown with Ginebra. "We were just thinking -- can we make it to the playoffs?"
"Credit to all these guys. They just kept working and working and working, and they found a way to win," he added. "I'm so proud of them."
It marked the end of an unusual PBA season that was held inside a "bubble" in Clark, Pampanga.
All 12 teams entered the PBA bubble in late September, with the conference restarting on October 11 after a seven-month break due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After some road bumps -- including a four-day break to shore up the league's protocols -- the season was finished before Christmas, as promised by Commissioner Willie Marcial.
The veteran Tenorio emerged as the Finals MVP after averaging 13.6 points, 6.2 assists, 2.8 rebounds, and 1.4 steals in the five-game series.
In earning the fourth All-Filipino title in franchise history, the Gin Kings needed to weather an admirable effort by a TNT squad that was missing two of its stars and saw other players suffer scary falls throughout the game.
Jayson Castro (knee) and Ray Parks (calf) didn't play in the do-or-die Game 5 for TNT, with the franchise opting not to take greater risk with the two players. But the Tropang Giga stayed in step with the Gin Kings all game long, and were even in control early in the game after Poy Erram got off to a hot start.
But Aguilar came alive in the second quarter, scoring 16 points to push the Gin Kings ahead at the break, while the Tropang Giga endured a nervous moment when Erram ran off the court with under three minutes to go and rushed to the dugout.
Fortunately for TNT, Erram was able to return for the third quarter, and the Tropang Giga continued to go toe-to-toe with the Gin Kings. Leading the way was Roger Pogoy, who had 11 points in the period to help TNT take a 56-55 lead into the final quarter.
The Tropang Giga looked poised to force a sixth game when Simon Enciso drilled back-to-back three-pointers with five minutes left, giving them a 73-68 advantage. But that was when Pringle took over. The prolific guard was silent for most of the game, but after two Aguilar free throws, he drilled a booming triple that knotted the count at 73 with 4:10 to go.
After Ginebra forced a stop in TNT's next possession, Pringle knocked down another three-pointer with 3:16 left to give the Gin Kings the lead for good, 76-73. Enciso bricked a triple on the other end, and Tenorio assisted on an Aguilar dunk that gave the Gin Kings a 78-73 lead with under two minutes to play.
TNT still battled, with Enciso and Samboy de Leon making layups, but the Gin Kings would not be denied.
The Ginebra players and coaches had nothing but praise for TNT after their hard-fought series.
"I thought the coaching staff of Talk 'N Text coached brilliantly with what they had," Cone said afterward.
"At the end of the day, we had to grind out this win," said Aguilar. "I wanna give credit to Talk 'N Text sa paglaban nila. Alam namin na they're down in terms of injuries and stuff, pero credit talaga. Lumaban sila hanggang huli."
TNT's All-Filipino drought continues; the franchise has not won the Philippine Cup since the 2012-13 season.
Pogoy finished with 23 points and eight rebounds, losing steam in the fourth quarter after his torrid shooting in the third. Erram had 18 points, 15 boards, three blocks and two steals, while Enciso finished with 17 markers.