Cone, Ginebra’s ploy pays off handsomely

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Not going for the jugular against the struggling defending champions and breathing life to their championship repeat aspirations was a tough choice for the Ginebra San Miguel Gin Kings.

A lot has been said about Ginebra’s lackluster performance against sister team, San Miguel Beer, on November 8 during the ramped up eliminations of the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup.

In this game, they choose to preserve themselves for future battles at the expense of allowing a big luxury to an opponent that was apparently facing tough odds in retaining their title.

Why this was viewed as a bad idea was the Beermen had previously beaten the Kings in the Philippine Cup and this particular opponent has the potential to haunt Ginebra on their quest of this year’s Philippine Cup title despite losing top guns June Mar Fajardo and Terrence Romeo.

Before the game Ginebra, sported a 7-2 win-loss and was in good position to bag the number one seed going to the quarterfinals. They don’t have to win this game to attain the goal as a win over Terrafirma Dyip in their last game would lead them to an 8-3 finish, still tops among the 12 teams.

San Miguel, on the other hand, needs this. They wore a 5-4 win-loss record before the match and a loss would have dropped them to a 5th to 8th spot range if they make it to the playoffs or even a possible outright elimination.

Ginebra went on to lose, 66-81, despite taking an early lead and subsequently cutting a 20-point, 36-56, deficit early in third quarter to just three, 53-56, 4:18 left in the third. Their second stringers were mostly responsible in leading the charge for the 17-0 run.

With the lead cut to a manageable level and lots of time left in the game, Ginebra refused to bring their top guns back on the floor.

If the Kings were to win the game at the expense of the visibly weary Beermen it will have to be their bench igniting a comeback.

The bench, however, were no match for the Beermen the rest of the way as the lead quickly ballooned up again to double digits.

Ginebra Head Coach Tim Cone explained the move to be for the “long-term”. He said his starters were equally as tired as the Beermen and he chose to “save” them for the final game against Terrafirma and the playoffs.

“I assure you I want to beat San Miguel more than anybody,” said Cone in an interview. “We just have dead legs tonight.”

A lot of followers and fans of non-San Miguel Corporation teams were not buying Cone’s stance, crying “Sagip Kapamilya”, obviously referring to the benefit it would afford the struggling Beermen.

“The bottomline is I know some of the fans are going to be a little bit upset on us, but I’ve gotten used to that. But we’re just trying to think about the big picture here,” explained Cone. “And the big picture is we’re trying to make a huge effort coming back to that game with our key players and then turn around and play KIA [now Terrafirma] tomorrow and risk losing that game because we’re dead-tired. So it doesn’t make sense.”

As it eventually turned out, the win for the Beermen gave them a big boost in retaining their crown. They went on to win their last game against Northport, 120-99, and finish 7-4, good enough for a twice to beat advantage as the 4th seed.

Ironically, this Ginebra loss also got the Kings in an odd situation as they now have the prospect of facing teams they previously lost to in order to reach the finals.

They drew the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters in the quarterfinals. It will be recalled the Elasto Painters dealt the Kings their second loss in the bubble on October 27, 82-85, dropping them to 4-2 then.

If the quarterfinals goes according to the seedings, they will met the Beermen in the semifinals given that they have to be beaten twice by the Meralco Bolts who they earlier scalped, 89-82, on October 28.

Had Ginebra prevailed against San Miguel in the questioned game, they would send the Beermen to a 6-5 card after the elimination round, tied with Rain or Shine. This will drop the Beermen to the 8th seed, having lost to Rain or Shine, 83-87, on the third day of competitions in the bubble.

That would have set a rematch in the quarterfinals with Ginebra having a good chance to eliminate the defending champions by carrying the momentum along with a twice-to-beat advantage.

Intentionally or not, the ploy of Ginebra and their coach paid dividends handsomely as the turn of events couldn’t be any better for them.

Ginebra did have their rest, and more, because of their strategy.

They did their part by routing Terrafirma to get the first seed and have a four-day off on their schedule before taking on Rain or Shine on November 13.

Then they literally send home Rain or Shine out of the PBA bubble in just one game to reward themselves of another four-day off while waiting who between the Beermen and the Bolts will emerged in their hard-fought series as Meralco extended it to another game with a 78-71 Game One victory.

Meralco went on to eliminate San Miguel on November 15 by an uncharacteristically 90-68 blowout and winning two straight over the now deposed champs to enter in the semis of the Philippine Cup for the first time in their franchise’s history.

The extended rest was clearly evident during the first game played last November 18 as the weary Bolts could barely keep up whenever the Kings’ deeper line-up spread the floor and speed up the game.

The Kings outclassed the Bolts in the hustle department: scoring more second chance points, 15-6; outrebounding them in the offensive glass, 17-11, and had more steals, 5-2. They were tied in blocks with 3 each.

The Bolts also missed shots from spots they normally make.

They were just 24-of-60 (40%) from two point range and 11-of-18 (55%) from the free throw line. They were 7-of-18 (38%) beyond the arc but if Allein Maliksi’s contributions is to be excluded, the rest of the Bolts are just 15%.

Maliksi, who kept his team afloat early in the third, went 5-for-5 from three-point land.

The Kings pretty much have the number of the Bolts in previous recent meetings. With their self-awareness of falling into the trap of relaxing over a Game One win, it looks like Ginebra is in for another extended rest as the Phoenix Super LPG Fuelmasters and TNT Tropang Giga are up for a grueling, long battle in their own series following a 95-92 TNT Game One win.

The rest gambit won proved to be a big luxury to the Gin Kings in this year’s PBA bubble as the competition reaches its final stages.

All can be traced as a result of the fateful night they didn’t put a fighting stance against the defending champions and allowed them to get back on their feet.

By Armando M. Bolislis