BARANGAY Ginebra played like it was the one that had its back against the wall, ousting Rain or Shine, 99-91, on Wednesday to set up a gigantic showdown against San Miguel Beer in the PBA Philippine Cup semifinals.
Bracing for an expected Elasto Painters figthback, the Gin Kings instead established a huge lead early on in Game Two then benefited from their opponents’ unforced errors and misses to pull off a sweep of the E-Painters in their best-of-three quarterfinal series.
Japeth Aguilar continued to anchor the middle in the absence of Greg Slaughter, while Jervy Cruz provided another spark off the bench as the Gin Kings advanced to the Final Four, just months after winning a championship in the Governors Cup.
“What a relief,” Gin Kings coach Tim Cone said. “It’s always a big relief to get through the quarters. To me, it's the hardest series to win, the quarter series, just because there’s so much pressure on you to make the semis all the time, so that really builds hard.”
“And I think that the quarters really is, through my career, the hardest series to win,” he added. “So when you finally get through it, it’s just truly a relief.”
The Gin Kings thus arranged a finals rematch against top–seeded defending champion SMB in a best-of-seven Final Four that starts either Friday if NLEX will sweep Alaska in the other best-of-three series, or on Saturday.
The Gin Kings wasted an early nine-point lead as the E-Painters turned the game around and built a six-point cushion, but Ginebra regained its bearings when it mattered.
The 6-foot-9 Aguilar stood tallest, pumping in 27 points, including two on a short jumper that capped back-to-back baskets, the other from Joe Devance, and gave the Gin Kings a 96-89 lead after the E-Painters pulled to within 92-89.
Aguilar, still recovering from a minor back injury, completed a solid effort with 12 rebounds, three blocks, three steals, and one assist in34 minutes, while Cruz added 18 points, seven rebounds, and two assists in less than 25 minutes off the bench as he continued to be a thorn in the side of his former team.
LA Tenorio recovered from a misfiring start as he finished with 17 points, three assists, two boards, and one steal, without committing a single turnover in almost 40 minutes of play.
Maverick Ahanmisi led the E-Painters with 18 points, but all but one came in the first three quarters as he missed a handful of makeable shots and committed errors down the stretch.
GINEBRA 99 – Aguilar 27, Cruz 18, Tenorio 17, Mercado 10, Devance 10, Thompson 9, Ferrer 6, Taha 2, Manuel 0
ROS 91 – Ahanmisi 18, Daquioag 14, Almazan 14, Belga 13, Nambatac 8, Norwood 7, Ponferada 7, Washington 5, Onwubere 3, Borboran 2
Quarterscores: 28-19; 43-46; 77-72; 99-91