HORROR of horrors! Ginebra lost! In a Game Seven! Without hardly putting up a fight! Well, that sucked.
Hours leading up to the historic matchup between the PBA’s certified crowd darlings and the equally star-studded, if underrated, San Mig Coffee Mixers — witnessed by a whopping 24,883 people, an all-time record (that didn't include Robert Jaworksi!), so declared the game’s TV commentators — I was telling people who cared to listen to my pre-Game Seven forecast that this highly anticipated duel would end in a rout.
Majority of the win-or-go-home matches I’ve seen in the past seem to have a way of concluding in this manner. Not a fan of either team, I didn’t particularly care which ballclub would be humiliated in the end. But deep down, I wanted it to be the Coffee Mixers simply because I thought a matchup between the Gin Kings and Yeng Guiao’s Rain or Shine bruisers was the sexier — and, perhaps, even dirtier — PBA Finals to see rather than the other way around.
Who doesn’t want a finale that has all the makings of a Thrilla in Manila Part 4 — big-ass trophy the size of Emman Monfort, heat stroke, violence, and all, right? I was smelling blood and feeling pumped.
Unfortunately, James Yap, Peter Jun Simon, and the rest of the superbly coached Coffee Mixers had the perfect plot twist in mind to dash my hopes. Yap, shooting a tantalizingly accurate 7-for-10 clip from beyond the arc, was at his ‘Big Game’ best, frustrating the so-called ‘nation’s team’ that from the get-go lacked the gumption to triumph in a game of this magnitude.
That was the biggest downer of all, if you ask me, especially considering Ginebra’s thrilling Game Six victory that, in an ideal world, could have been the perfect storybook setup for a victorious Game Seven finish. Poor Gin Kings. You could easily tell early they were in for a sudden demise.
Their offense, largely anchored on either Greg Slaughter or Japeth Aguilar doing their shotclock-wasting schtick, was so predictable that Marc Pingris and Joe Devance easily disrupted their flow.
Also, Ginebra didn’t run nor made any effort to speed up the game, which was uncharacteristic of a team so loved for its vaunted high-octane offense. Their half-court sets reeked of unpreparedness. And their messy rotation reflected that.
Not to disrespect guys like Chris Ellis, Josh Urbiztondo, and even the just reactivated Billy Mamaril, but Game Sevens, at least to me, should strictly be about riding your most trusted guys until their lungs give out.
Look at Justin Melton and Alex Mallari who just had meaningless cameos for San Mig Coffee on Wednesday night. I’m sure they didn’t mind not breaking a sweat for this one. A team embroiled in a big stakes match, after all, is entitled to unleash only one hat-trick for the night, milking it for all its worth. And Rafi Reavis — God bless his aging, creaky knees and his surprising (san-nanggaling-yun)15 points — was it for the Coffee Mixers on Wednesday evening.
But more than the Gin Kings’ sputtering offense and quirky oncourt combinations, it was their atrocious defense that ultimately did them in. Long story short, they were clueless on how to stop San Mig’s relentless assault.
Toward the end of the second quarter, for example, Ginebra played zone defense to counteract Yap and Simon’s on-target sniping from the perimeter. It seemed like the correct defensive stance to make at the time, true. The problem was, the Gin Kings did so halfheartedly that the shaded block looked so much like Edsa traffic on a Good Friday, littered with all the mouth-watering freebies for lumbering San Mig backup big Ian Sangalang to greedily take advantage of.
In the end, my trusted barber was spot on when he said prior to the start of this semifinals bout that Tim Cone —grand slam-winning coach, triangle offense genius — would be too much for Ginebra to upend. And no matter how much the San Mig mentor humbly tried to deflect praises directed at him after the game, it was obvious from the way he called the match that he had everything in control.
Now contrast that to the collective demeanor displayed by his overmatched counterparts on the Gin Kings bench. At one point in the third quarter, a few minutes after Yap nailed his sixth three-pointer, the camera cut to the Ginebra coaching brain thrust for about two seconds and caught this brief but telling view: A shot of all of them looking shell-shocked, devoid of sense of urgency, and slouching in their seats as if already vanquished.
That right there, I thought, was exactly how one should sit through a flop from courtside.
(Allan Madrilejos is the Team Editor of FHM Philippines/FHM.com.ph/Men's Health Philippines and a lifelong Crispa Redmanizers fan)