MARC Pingris stressed defense will continue to be key to Star's success in the PBA Philippine Cup, as shown in a 78-74 comeback win over Barangay Ginebra in Game One of their semifinal series on Thursday night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
A big defensive stop by Pingris on Japeth Aguilar entering the final two minutes of play highlighted the grind-out win pulled off by the Hotshots, who trailed by as many as 10 early in the second period.
The block on Aguilar, who managed to elude the lanky veteran Rafi Reavis but not the help defense of Pingris, epitomized the kind of team Star has always been known for.
“Katulad ng laging sinasabi ko, ang puhunan talaga namin depensa,” said Pingris in the post-game interview.
The Hotshots were overeager in the early stretches and found themselves playing catch-up. “Nanggigil kami nung una kasi hindi namin mahanap yung depensa namin, kaya nagkagulo kami,” Pingris recalled.
A simple reminder from their veteran leader got the Hotshots back into the game.
“Sinabihan ko yung mga teammates ko na kaya tayo nanggigil dahil sa depensa. Ibalik lang natin,” Pingris said. “Huwag ninyong hanapin yung tira ninyo dahil lalabas din yan. Kailangan muna tayong dumipensa bago tayo umopensa.”
As Star began to settle down defensively, everything followed.
With Pingris and Reavis forcing Ginebra to bleed for every point, the Hotshots turned to Paul Lee on offense, and the combo guard didn’t disappoint as he fired nine of his 18 points in the final quarter, including five straight points inside the final minute to seal the deal for Star.
Pingris finished with nine points and five assist but was a monster off the boards with 12 rebounds. He also clamped down on the 6-foot-9 Aguilar, who was held to just 11 points on 4 of 13 shooting.
“Yun naman ang trabaho namin, depensa,” he stressed.