JAPETH Aguilar hit a wide-open baseline jumper at the buzzer to lift Barangay Ginebra to a thrilling 97-96 win over San Miguel on Friday night, moving the league's most popular team within a win of a return to the PBA Finals.
Rookie Scottie Thompson put together the first triple double by a local this season to stand out for Ginebra, but it was Aguilar who made the shot that mattered the most in a helter-skelter final offensive play that saw misses by Justin Brownlee and Thompson himself.
With San Miguel unable to control the defensive boards, Ginebra took advantage as three passes led the ball to a wide-open Aguilar who rattled in the go-ahead basket as the final buzzer sounded.
Poignant chants of 'Ginebra, Ginebra' rang out inside the Smart Araneta Coliseum once confirmation came that the jumper beat the game clock, giving the Gin Kings a 2-1 lead over the defending champions in what has been a beguiling PBA Governors Cup semifinal series.
“It was a hard game, well-fought, both teams played at the highest of their abilities, and we just kind of stayed in the game with our character,” Gin Kings coach Tim Cone said.
“And boy, Japeth was so calm when he shot that shot,” the champion coach added of Aguilar's heroics that negated that of Arwind Santos, who knocked down a pair of mid-range jumpers that had put SMB on top.
The Gin Kings can clinch their first finals appearance in three years with a win in Game Four of the best-of-five series on Sunday night also at the Big Dome.
Thompson tallied 12 points, 11 boards, and 10 assists, on top of one steal, while never turning the ball over in almost 36 minutes of play as the unflappable freshman from Digos City became the first homegrown rookie to record a triple-double in 23 years, or since Johnny Abarrientos achieved the remarkable feat.
LA Tenorio also came an assist shy of a triple-double as he finished with 22 and 10 boards in almost 40 minutes, while import Justin Brownlee added 25 points, seven rebounds, three assists, two steals, and a crucial block on SMB counterpart Elijah Millsap down the stretch.
The Gin Kings continued to spread the wealth as they dished out a league-season-high 36 assists, their team play highlighted in the game-winning play where all five players touched the ball before Aguilar caught it last and showed nerves of steel.
GINEBRA 97 - Brownlee 25, Aguilar 22, Tenorio 20, Thompson 12, Devance 5, Mariano 4, Helterbrand 3, Caguioa 2, Cruz 2, Mercado 2, Marcelo 0.
SAN MIGUEL 96 - Millsap 24, Lassiter 15, Santos 15, Cabagnot 13, Fajardo 11, Tubid 10, Ross 8, De Ocampo 0.
Quarterscores: 29-28, 51-55, 78-77, 97-96