SOL Mercado came through at crunchtime on both ends of the floor to lift Barangay Ginebra to a pulsating 82-79 victory that knotted the PBA Governors’ Cup Finals at one game apiece on Sunday night before a huge crowd at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The 6-foot-1 playmaker rose above Meralco big men Allen Durham and Reynel Hugnatan to score the putback that put the Gin Kings on top for good, before forcing Durham to take a tough shot that missed on the other end as Ginebra bounced back from a Game One loss.
Durham, who was named Best Import earlier, also committed a turnover and missed a three-pointer that could’ve sent the game to overtime as the pro-Ginebra fans in a crowd of over 18,000 heaved a sigh of relief.
Game Three is on Wednesday also at the Big Dome.
Durham was held to just 22 points on 10-of-24 shooting in 40 minutes after exploding for 46 points in 50 minutes in the series opener that went to the limit.
“We hang our hat on our defense,” Gin Kings coach Tim Cone said after his team limited the Bolts to 43-percent shooting from the field, actually three percent better than Ginebra’s clip.
“And Sol was our MVP tonight,” he added of Mercado, who finished with 12 points, four assists, and six boards, none bigger than the one he hauled down with 28.2 seconds left off an LA Tenorio miss as the shot clock expired.
Justin Brownlee, who finished second behind Durham in the Best Import race, showed he was as deserving of the award as he tallied 32 points, 12 boards, three assists, three steals, and one block as he bounced from a few lapses in Game One.
The Gin Kings looked poised for a breakaway win as they established a 15-point lead in the third quarter and ended it on top by nine points.
The Bolts, though, came back and even took the lead twice, the last at 79-77 after Cliff Hodge completed a three-point play with two minutes and 45 seconds left.
Brownlee, however, retaliated with a tough midrange jumper to tie the score and set the stage for Mercado’s heroics, before LA Tenorio iced it after splitting his charities.
GINEBRA 82 – Brownlee 32, Mercado 12, Caguioa 10, Tenorio 9, Thompson 9, Aguilar 6, Devance 2, Helterbrand 2, Cruz 0, Marcelo 0
MERALCO 79 – Durham 22, Hodge 16, Newsome 10, Hugnatan 9, Nabong 6, Amer 4, Caram 4, Alapag 3, Uyloan 3, Faundo 2
Quarterscores: 24-21, 43-44, 69-60, 82-79