SOL Mercado is ready to embrace whatever coach Tim Cone would ask him to do if it would mean finally ending the eight-year PBA championship drought of Barangay Ginebra.
From Allen Durham, he has since switched role and became the Chris Newsome stopper during Game Five of the PBA Governors Cup finals.
Judging by the way the Kings escaped with a 92-81 win to move within an arm's reach of clinching their first league title since 2008, Mercado believed he did a pretty decent job holding the athletic Meralco rookie the same way he slowed down Durham early in the title series.
"Yeah I think (so), I’m a little bit out of (foul) trouble,” he said when asked about his effort to contain Newsome to just 10 points on 5 of 10 shooting during Sunday’s Game Five of the title series at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The 32-year-old Mercado, who also did his share in the offensive end with eight points – including a clutch three-pointer inside the two-minute mark – said Cone didn’t notify him of the change in the defensive rotation until the eve of the game itself.
“Newsome has been killing us. I think coach wanted a guy who can match his strength, his athleticism,” said Mercado, a native of Sacramento, California, who is in his first-ever finals appearance. “I just tried to pressure him and keep him from doing what he’s been doing.”
So far, Mercado has been serving as Cone’s best defensive player in the best-of-seven finals.
He was tasked to hound Durham in Game Two after the Best Import of the season-ending conference torched the Kings for 46 points in a 114-109 Meralco win in overtime during the series opener. Mercado held the Bolts reinforcement to just 22 the next outing as the Kings grinded out an 82-79 victory.
But the referees kept things tight in Game Three that had Mercado in early foul trouble and allowed Durham to explode for 36 points for a 107-103 win. After the match, Cone was quick to slam game officials for keeping an ‘eagle eye’ on Mercado.
Mercado, acquired by the Kings last year in a trade with Globalport involving Joseph Yeo, isn’t taking sole credit for the defensive success against the Bolts.
“It’s always been a team effort and never me one-on-one against anybody,” said the Fil-Am guard. “We play five-man defense, so I can’t take all the credit.”
Despite a 3-2 lead in the series, the Kings can’t afford to let up, according to Mercado. Not against a team as good as the Bolts.
“We’ve got to play everything we’ve got. We got to play like our backs are against the wall,” he said. “They’ve gonna bring in everything they got because there’s no tomorrow for them. So we have to have the same mindset. There’s no tomorrow for us, and this is also our elimination game.
“We have to try to match their intensity.”