PBA: Ginebra, Magnolia look forward to Clasico with fans in attendance

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 21 2021 04:23 PM

Fans will be back in the stands when Magnolia and Ginebra face off in the Manila Clasico on Christmas Day. PBA Media Bureau.
Fans will be back in the stands when Magnolia and Ginebra face off in the Manila Clasico on Christmas Day. PBA Media Bureau.

MANILA, Philippines -- For the first time in over two years, fans will be in attendance when Barangay Ginebra and Magnolia renew their rivalry in the Manila Clasico.

The Gin Kings and the Hotshots face off on Christmas Day, with both teams looking to maintain their perfect records in the 2021 PBA Governors' Cup. Ginebra is currently at 3-0, while Magnolia has a 2-0 slate.

"It's always a battle. Manila Clasico is always a battle. I think both teams look forward to playing it," said Ginebra coach Tim Cone, whose team is coming off a 125-121 overtime win against Phoenix Super LPG last Sunday.

"There's not a lot of need for motivation, from the coaching staff or from management, because these players are super motivated to play against each other," he added. "And they know how important it is to the fans, so I think we're all looking forward to that Christmas Day game."

The Araneta Coliseum is expected to welcome its biggest crowd since doors were opened to fans last week for the first time since March 2020. Because of government restrictions, the Big Dome can only accommodate up to 4,000 persons. 

Still, having fans back to watch the Clasico will be a welcome sight for both Magnolia and Ginebra, after the last two editions of the rivalry game were held in empty gyms in bubble settings.

"It's a big game for both teams, because after two years the crowd is back," said Magnolia coach Chito Victolero. "So 'yung mga parents natin, 'yung mga lolos, I think they are excited also to watch this Manila Clasico again, live."

The Hotshots won their encounters in the 2020 and 2021 All-Filipino conferences, but the Gin Kings were triumphant in their elimination round meetings in the PBA's 2019 season, including a 105-83 rout in the Governors' Cup, where Justin Brownlee just missed a triple-double with 27 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds.

That showdown in October 2019 was the last time that the Clasico was played in front of fans.

"It's just another game, although malaking factor 'yung crowd," admitted Victolero.

"During the bubble, dalawang bubble na 'yan, so medyo siyempre, it's a Clasico pero 'yung hype ng game, hindi ganoon because of walang crowd. But now, the crowd is back," he added.

For Victolero, it will be crucial for his team to approach the Ginebra showdown as "just like the other games," which means they will keep practicing even on Christmas Eve.

"We need to practice on the 24th because we have a game on the 25th," he said. "We just try to eliminate the distractions as much as possible. There's a lot of distractions on this game because it's a Christmas Day game."

"If we can do that, then we have a good focus sa game siguro," he added.

Cone, for his part, acknowledged that Magnolia is looking "really tough" to start the Governors' Cup. The Hotshots have beaten TerraFirma and Rain or Shine in back-to-back games, with an average margin of victory of 19 points per game.

"The games they've played haven't been close. So they're obviously playing at a really, really high level," Cone said of the Hotshots. 

"This is a tough team. Again, it's another team that mismatches us because they're a little smaller and quicker than we are, and those are tough match-ups for us," he added.

Like Magnolia, the Gin Kings also intend to train through the week, only taking Monday off for rest and to undergo RT-PCR testing.