GREG Slaughter could have made a comeback for Barangay Ginebra in its PBA Philippine Cup semifinals duel against defending champion San Miguel had the best-of-seven series been extended further.
Coach Tim Cone disclosed the 7-foot center already joined the Kings in practice Friday for a possible return from the severe sprained ankle that sidelined him for the entire playoffs.
Unfortunately, the Kings’ all-Filipino campaign was cut short by the Beermen, who eliminated the league’s most popular ballclub with a 100-94 win in Game Five Saturday night at the Astrodome.
“We had Greg practicing for a little bit yesterday (Friday), so he was coming close to coming back,” said Cone after the Kings formally bowed out of contention following a 4-1 series loss.
“But we just couldn’t stay live long enough to have him back.”
A Ginebra without Slaughter is almost synonymous for San Miguel not having four-time league MVP June Mar Fajardo around, according to Cone.
“One of the coaches said to me what it would be like if they didn’t have June Mar, how hard it would be for them. It was that way for us,” Cone pointed out.
But make no mistake, the 60-year-old Ginebra coach isn’t making excuses.
“Despite not having Greg, I thought we did a great battle,” Cone noted.
The Kings did. They appeared ready to extend the series after racing to as much as a 39-27 lead in the second quarter.
But the three-time reigning champion played true to form, tying the game at halftime, 55-all, and then stepped on the gas in the third quarter when it enjoyed as much as an 80-69 lead.
Even after the Kings managed to retake the lead, the Beermen played with the composure of an experienced team down the stretch to make it back to the all-Filipino finals for the fourth straight time.
Cone however, expressed how proud he was with the effort put up by the Kings.
“I’m real proud with our guys for battling the way they did, they played real hard, real well. We just couldn’t finish the game,” he said.
He lauded the Ginebra’s role players such as Prince Caperal and Raymund Aguilar, who tried to fill in the shoes left by the injured Slaughter.
But he reserved the biggest compliment to Japeth Aguilar and Scottie Thompson, who finished with a triple-double of 10 points, 16 rebounds, and 16 assists.
“Japeth really stepped up,” he said “And Scottie was incredible all series long.
As they say, players win games and coaches lose them. Cone was quick to own the blame on the loss as the Kings failed to advance after making the finals of this same conference last season.
“I’m angry that I didn’t do enough for them. Couldn’t win the game, some of the games we should have won down the stretch, Game 2 and tonight,” he recalled.
“But those things happen. So I’ll be angry at myself but I’ll be real proud of those guys.”