Barangay bubble burst: What happened to Ginebra

Posted at 02/13/2014 3:51 PM
San Mig Coffee's Justin Melton and Ginebra's Jayjay Helterbrand hustle for the loose ball. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNnews.com

In the end, this wasn’t even close.

Game 7 of the 2014 PLDT Home myDSL Philippine Cup between the San Mig Coffee Mixers and the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel was supposed to be an epic battle between rival teams with 26 years of history. Having never met each other for a Game 7 in all that time, and after engaging in six great games for this series, much was expected by a record crowd that trooped to the Araneta Coliseum. But when the opening tip happened, it was clear that this was a mismatch.

From the first few minutes of the game, the Mixers displayed unselfish basketball and kept feeding an unlikely scoring source in Rafi Reavis. The mostly defensive big man was left untouched several times because the man tasked to mark him, Japeth Aguilar, was freelancing on defense, leaving his man behind because he’s only good for blocking shots on the weak side. Tim Cone’s wards exploited Aguilar’s pathetic excuse for defense and Reavis thrived as a result.

Meanwhile, much-maligned superstar James Yap started nailing triple after triple, sending the crowd in attendance and the viewers on TV wondering if the former MVP was due for a vintage performance. Yap quickly put behind the dubious call made against him by referee Edward Aquino at the end of Game 6 and, despite a creaky right elbow, shot the lights out at the Big Dome.

By the time the final quarter came around, it was Yap’s longtime backcourt partner PJ Simon who took over the scoring duties. The Cotabato native routinely used and abused former MVP Jayjay Helterbrand with a variety of dribbles, shotfakes, postup moves, teardrop jumpers in the paint, and three-pointers that sent the San Mig side of the audience into a frenzy.

Ginebra coach Ato Agustin valiantly tried to rally his troops during timeouts but to no avail. This version of Ginebra looked tired, confused, disillusioned and just beat up by a heavily experienced and poised Mixers squad that has been in this kind of situation before. Point guard LA Tenorio kept shooting, although he only made two of 12 three-point attempts, Mark Caguioa engaged Yap in an old school shootout in the first half, but found little help when SMC broke the game wide open.

Finishing touches

When the smoke had cleared, Yap had nailed an amazing seven of 10 field goals from beyond the arc to the tune of 30 points, while Simon wasn’t far behind with 28 markers. Rookie Ian Sangalang matched Reavis with 15 points apiece, letting Marc Pingris focus on rebounding and defense. The final score was an astounding 110-87, the biggest winning margin by a team in a Game Seven in PBA history.

“It’s great shooting, not great coaching,” noted Cone, deflecting credit to his players. “I didn’t do anything out there.”

But he did do something. Cone built this iteration of Mixers and instilled the discipline, poise, and famed triangle offense that he won 13 titles at Alaska with. Now they advance to their fourth PBA Finals in six conferences to face a well-rested, hungry, and on fire Rain or Shine squad that has proven every bit the title contender in years past.

Another Ginebra failure

After being on top of the standings practically throughout the tournament, Ginebra heads home wondering where it all went wrong. There will be finger-pointing to be sure.

Agustin, who won a title as coach of Petron in 2011, sometimes looked lost when Cone would wave his magic coaching wand. On his bench, Art dela Cruz, Juno Sauler, Boysie Zamar and Jorge Gallent all had loads of coaching experience, but did too many cooks spoil the broth? And what of Alfrancis Chua, the former Ginebra coach-turned-team manager who seemed to keep elbowing his way into huddles and whispering into Agustin’s ear? Was he a manager or a pseudo-coach all along?

The massive buildup Ginebra undertook during the offseason was supposed to win them their first title since the 2008 Fiesta Conference. But the team stopped going to Slaughter in the paint, Chris Ellis basically disappeared, as did Mac Baracael. Caguioa turned back the clock for 23 points, while Aguilar’s 17 were mostly made off jumpers that made little impact in the endgame. There’s plenty of blame to go around for this squad, and rightly so.

Coffee versus Paint

Thus, we move from the seven-game series between archrivals to a Finals series that might prove to be a coaching clinic for both sides.

Rain or Shine’s Yeng Guiao built his team from the ground up with the full support of team owners Raymond Yu and Terry Que, resulting in a period of huge success for the franchise. They are a physical, defensive-minded, yet explosive team on offense that has demolished opponents in their wake in several ways.

Guiao, the fiery, emotional mentor who basically coached three out of five games in their series versus Petron due to ejection and suspension, always knows how to draw the best out of his boys.

Beau Belga, JR Quinahan and Jervy Cruz might not be the tallest or most talented big men, but their basketball smarts and wide bodies have made “Extra Rice, Inc.” a force to deal with.

The roster of Gabe Norwood, Jeff Chan, Jireh Ibanes, Ryan Arana, Chris Tiu, TY Tang, and Larry Rodriguez got a boost from rookie sensations Raymond Almazan, Alex Nuyles and Jeric Teng. Every single one of these Elasto Painters can be counted on by Guiao to deliver when it matters, something that can also be said for Cone’s Mixers.

Two veteran coaches with tons of championship experience. Two veteran rosters looking to take home the prestigious Philippine Cup. The Elasto Painters enter the Finals as favorites due to their rest, near-undefeated record since December, and the emotional toll that the “Manila Clasico” must have taken on the Mixers.

If you thought that was fun, let’s see what the first Talk ‘N Text-free all-Filipino Finals series in three years will bring.