TWO of the league’s most popular teams with unpopular statures as of the moment collide for survival in the PBA Governors’ Cup on Sunday before an expected jampacked crowd at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Barangay Ginebra and Star, two perennial playoff contenders now in limbo at the bottom half of the 12-team standings, seek to keep their postseason hopes alive at 5:15 p.m. in a marquee matchup preceded by an equally exciting pairing between league-leading Barako Bull and up-and-coming Globalport.
Both teams gained some breathing room thanks to separate morale-boosting wins, the Gin Kings a 111-108 escape act against Globalport last Wednesday and the Hotshots an 89-80 victory over giant-killing Kia last week.
But work is far from over as the Kings and Hotshots try to climb to safer ground to move out of their current places at eighth and ninth spots, respectively.
“The stakes are very high,” Hotshots coach Tim Cone said on Friday. “It’s nearly a do-or-die game for both sister teams. If there is a time where we need to step up, the time is now. We don’t have any more time to waste.”
James Yap displayed the sense of urgency his multi-titled American mentor has been looking for as the Hotshots superstar fired 23 points and buried all his four three-point attempts that put an end to his shooting slump this conference and led his team to the win against the Carnival.
“We should see a game where both teams go all out,” said Cone, whose team has won only two of their first six games.
“It’s going to be a big game,” said Ginebra star Mark Caguioa, whose team is also toting a win-loss record below .500 at 3-4. “We need to win; they need to win.”
The Gin Kings showed their will to win against the relentless Batang Pier, whom they outlasted in a grueling overtime battle.
Japeth Aguilar stood tallest among the locals as the 6-foot-9 beanpole sustained his solid play with 18 points, 13 boards and four blocks in 32 minutes.
“But we can’t be happy and content with the win against Globalport,” Aguilar said. “We will put the same effort against Purefoods we put against Globalport.”
A matchup between prolific and do-it-all imports is also in store as the Kings’ Orlando Johnson, who had 34 points, 13 boards, and six assists against Globalport takes on Marqus Blakely, who tallied 23 points and 11 rebounds against the Carnival.
Adding spice to the matchup is the rivalry between the two SMC teams.
“Playing against Purefoods is always a classic game,” Caguioa said. “The fans are always going to be there, so both teams are going to come out firing with a lot of intensity.”