HE can either tighten his rotation or dig deep from his bench, but what matters for Tim Cone is to get the most out of whoever he fields on Wednesday night when Barangay Ginebra tries to finish off Meralco in Game Six of the PBA Governors’ Cup Finals.
Cone stuck to an eight-man rotation of Justin Brownlee, LA Tenorio, Joe Devance, Greg Slaughter, Kevin Ferrer, Scottie Thompson, Japeth Aguilar, and Mark Caguioa in their 85-74 Game Five win that moved them on the cusp of a title repeat on Sunday.
And the Gin Kings coach could even shorten his rotation further as he leans on his wards who he knows who will deliver in a close-out game.
“It’s the finals. It’s the last few games,” Cone said after practice on the eve of Game Six. “You do what you have to do to win, and if it means playing five guys forty-eight minutes to win, then that’s what you do.”
“But you have to be smart with it,” the league’s most successful coach was quick to add. “Because you can wear out one of your players and in the last five minutes of the game, he can become ineffective or inefficient, then you lose the game in the last five minutes.”
“The reason why you rest players is so they can play strong and focused at the end of the game, so it’s a gamble when you play guys too long. We’ll see,” he continued.
Scottie Thompson played less than 27 minutes as a starter in Game Five, but is prepared to play extended minutes with fellow key backcourt player Sol Mercado still out with an ankle injury.
“Ready naman kami palagi dahil sabi ni coach Tim, next man up, so kailangan mag-step up lahat, kung sino man ipasok ni coach,” Thompson said. “Play lang kami as a team para makuha bukas.”
But if his starters don’t deliver, Cone can always make a surprise call-up from the bench to give the Bolts a different look.
“You never know in a game like that, somebody can step off the bench and suddenly be a hero,” Cone said. “It’s so unpredictable. For them, it was Reynel (Hugnatan) earlier in the series, and (Anjo) Caram, and for us, it was Jayjay (Helterbrand) and Mark (Caguioa) coming out and almost giving us that Game Four win.”
“So you never know in a game like this,” he added.
As tough as it is to play in, it’s a game that’s as tough to coach for Cone.
“Close-out games are always the hardest,” the American coach said. “It’s harder to coach close-out games than it is Game Sevens.”
“You know that they’re going to play with a very high level of desperation, and the stakes are very high, and to get your guys to match the intensity of a team that’s behind in the series is very difficult, but we hope we can do it,” he added.