The Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings and the TNT Tropang Giga booked their Finals appearance in the PBA Philippine Cup, taking different, yet equally thrilling routes in the process.
The Gins Kings, who topped the regular season race, nipped a surprising Meralco Bolts challenge 3-2. They did it with a heart-stopping 83-80 steal-of-a-win in Game 5, with Scottie Thompson burying a wicked 3-pointer with 0.6 seconds remaining.
The Gins relied on the steady firepower from Stanley Pringle, LA Tenorio, Japeth Aguilar and Scottie himself. Anchoring the defensive end were Scottie, Japeth, Prince Caperal and Aljon Mariano.
The TNT Tropang Giga, on the other hand, came from behind 1-2 to overtake the overachieving Phoenix LPG Fuelmasters 3-2. The Gigas made it with a strategy change reminiscent of the LA Lakers, when they went small against the sweet-shooting Houston Rockets.
The Gigas provided more minutes to Simon Enciso and Kid Montalbo, moving Bobby Ray Parks to the 4-spot, and bringing in sweet-shooting big Jay Washington to open up space and quicken the pace in the offense. This small ball team also provided better coverage on the defense, effectively shackling Phoenix’ vaunted 3-point game. This drastic change was the most significant learning point for the team, making them even more dangerous for the coming Final battles.
Now, it’s on to the Finals showdown for the Ginebra Gins and the TNT Gigas.
On paper, coach Tim Cone’s Gins have the better line-up. They have 4 active internationalists in LA Tenorio, Stanley Pringle, Scottie Thompson and Japeth Aguilar. They have 2 more former internationalists in the line-up. However, with Jeff Chan injured, Mar Caguiao now slowed down with age, this team will be relying more on their younger players to provide the bench support. If Greg Slaughter had not left the team early this year, they would have been stronger favorites to win this crown.
The TNT Gigas, with former player Bong Ravena coaching, also have a slew of active internationalists ready to do battle. There’s Jayson Castro, Bobby Ray Parks, Roger Pogoy, Troy Rosario and Paul Erram. Their bench is even more dangerous, and this is seen in the minutes played by the supporting cast. While the Gins have been giving major minutes to their 4 core players, the Gigas have been mixing and matching their roster depending on the situation.
The Finals match-ups will be interesting to watch. At point guard, providing direction on the hardcourt, TNT will pit the venerable Castro against the Gins’ Tenorio. For scoring, it will be Parks versus Pringle. The battle in the shaded lane will feature the tag team of Rosario, Erram and Washington against Aguilar, Joe Devance and Prince Caperal. And then there’s the Pogoy vs Scottie match-up on both ends of the court as well. These evenly-matched head-to-heads will definitely whet the appetite of Filipino cage fans.
Who do I think will win the crown? Based on the match-ups, the bench support, their recent past performances, coaching moves, I would agree with coach Tim Cone that the TNT Gigas should be the slight favorites to win this crown. While the main match-ups are fairly even, I believe the Gigas have the deeper bench, hence the lesser minutes for the starters. The Gigas’ past performance also shows versatility and dynamism, making adjustments that eventually stopped the Phoenix uprising. And that tells me that coach Bong Ravena and the coaching team is more adventurous with new ideas. But then that is what Ginebra has always wanted to be, the underdog. Given Ginebra’s penchant for underdog achievements, one can never tell.
The 2020 PBA Philippine Finals is set to start this Sunday. Both teams are getting ready to rock and roll. Let’s do it!!!
Photos courtesy of pba.ph.