Ginebra San Miguel and Meralco have been automatic shoo-in finalists in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Governors’ Cup since the Justin Brownlee and Allen Durham era.
The Ginebra-Meralco face-offs had been replayed in three of the last four years, turning it into a rivalry, if it could be called one.
It has been said that there is no rivalry if one of the protagonists in a duel always wins.
This Barangay-Bolts duel is different. These two teams are like boxers going the distance in every bout. There is no knockdown nor unanimous decisions in determining the winner. It is always a split decision.
This is why many felt it is a rivalry regardless of the fact that the Gins won the first two games and may again win this year.
Although Ginebra came out on top in their two previous meeting, it was not walk in the park victories.
It took a renaissance performance by “The Fast and the Furious” to bail the Barangay from falling into a precarious 1-3 cliff and an iconic three point shot from Brownlee in Game Six to close the 2016 series.
On the other hand, the 2017 finals had to go full route, with Game 5, 6, and 7 breaking all sorts of all-time attendance three records.
See related story: Can Ginebra continue its dominance over Meralco in the Governors’ Cup?
First to put their stamp was the 36,445 fans that saw the Barangay short circuited the Bolts, 85-74 in Game Five held at the Philippine Arena, which broke the previous highest attendance in PBA finals history.
This was quickly erased by the 53,642 fans who trooped to Bocaue, Bulacan to witness the Bolts electrocuting the Gin Kings, 98-91, in Game Six and set up the do-or-die game.
Not only did this broke the finals record, it also became the biggest crowd to attend a game in PBA history, eclipsing the previous high of 52,612 set during the opening ceremonies of the 2014 PBA season. Those were the ones who saw Columbia Dyip, then known as Kia and coached by Manny Pacquiao, ran over Blackwater; and Ginebra downing TNT in the double header.
The final game once again set a new league attendance record by hauling 54,086 fans to the world’s largest indoor arena and destroyed the previous marks set in Games 5 and 6.
The PBA scheduled the final two games of the current Givernors’ Cup best-of seven series to be held at the Philippine Arena if it would be necessary.
Is this series still appealing to fans in the same they did two years ago?
It is turning out to be another heart-stopping series as the two rivals are again trading blows that could have knocked out teams early, and yet, they are making the scores closed.
Ginebra drew first blood by a 97-81 squeaker in Game One.
Meralco knotted the count in Game Two by delivering a knockout punch in the first half to lead by as many as 19 points and withstood a furious rally by the Barangay in the second to prevail, 104-102.
Ginebra came charging back right in the third and tied the score at 70-all with over two minutes left in the frame. Timely three pointers from Baser Amer, Nico Salva and Nard Pinto, and a three point play by Durham bailed the Bolts in the game held in Lucena City.
Incidentally, Brownlee broke the record for most three- pointers made by an import in his career in this game.
It was Ginebras turn to play the exact opposite role in Game Three. The Gins, leading by only one at halftime, broke away from tight first half as Stanley Pringle led a third quarter assault to establish an 18-point lead entering the final canto.
If they thought they had things already wrapped up, they were mistaken as Meralco came charging back and cut the deficit to 5 with over two minutes left.
It took a trey by LA Tenorio and a Japeth Aguilar lay-up after that point to seal 92-84 2 win and the 2-1 lead.
If the series gets to a sixth and seventh game, it will not be surprising if fans of both teams come out in record numbers to fill the seats of the Philippine Arena again.
By ARMANDO M. BOLISLIS