APART from the battle on the court, the chess match on the sidelines has been just as intriguing in the ongoing PBA Philippine Cup semifinal series between San Mig Coffee and Barangay Ginebra.
And if the Mixers’ 2-1 lead is any indication, then Mixers coach Tim Cone is making all the right moves.
But the 56-year-old Cone, one of the most successful mentors in the league with 15 titles that tied him with the legendary Baby Dalupan for most ever, is deflecting credit to his players.
“These guys know how to play as underdogs, so frankly, I’m doing very little coaching,” the American mentor told Spin.ph after practice while watching a video of Sunday night's Game Three from his tablet.
“They key was my players were just focused. I’ve got a very veteran team. We’ve been here in these kinds of situations,” he added of his team, which has regained its old, fiery form after starting the season with five losses in their first six games.
Whether he admits it or not, however, Cone has a lot to do with the Mixers' success in the semifinal series, pushing the right buttons and keeping the Ginebra coaching staff guessing.
The grand slam coach was at it again on Sunday night when his decision to play with a small lineup in the fourth quarter of Game Three set the stage for the Mixers' breakaway on the way to a 97-89 win.
Mark Barroca and Justin Melton paired perfectly in the backcourt, while fellow guard PJ Simon joined Joe Devance and Marc Pingris up front. Together, they embarked on a late 20-10 salvo that took the fight out of the Kings.
“Visually, they (Kings) were looking tired and we came out with that group in the fourth quarter and put a lot of pressure on them to force some turnovers and we pressured them in the backcourt and it was working well,” Cone explained.
The timely ploy resulted in fastbreak opportunities that saw the Mixers run the Kings down with a 19-2 edge on transition points.
“Japeth (Aguilar) and Greg (Slaughter) weren’t getting down the floor really well, so we decided to keep a small lineup out there and keep trying to push the ball down the floor and see if we can wear them down a little bit,” the American coach said.
Asked if he will be sticking with his 'small ball' winning formula, Cone said he would rather keep the Kings guessing.
“I won’t know (what lineup I will use) until I see the way they’re playing,” the veteran mentor said. “We’re just trying to make them uncomfortable, whatever we can do to keep them out of rhythm.”
“If our big lineup is playing well, then there won’t be reason for us to go small.”
Still, Cone is glad to have a backcourt combo he can lean on in Barroca and Melton, who, the coach said, are great defenders apart from being reliable offensive options.
“They play with a lot of heart, that kind of elevates the whole team,” Cone said. “Our main guys are still James (Yap), PJ, and Ping, but these two guys can really spark us at times and that’s key for us, takes us to another level.”