GINEBRA coach Tim Cone had acknowledged his team as the underdog against San Miguel Beer in their PBA Governors’ Cup semifinal series that he still had doubts that they could win it even after taking the series opener last week.
“I told my friend that I don’t know how we won Game One and I don’t know how we’re going to win two, much less three against this team. And somehow we did,” the champion coach said after the Gin Kings’ 117-92 win in the deciding game on Tuesday that marked the Gin Kings’ return to the finals.
Even after dragging the Beermen to sudden death, Cone still had doubts, so much so that he had already thought of a losing speech after the game.
“I had a lot of prepared speeches in the locker room, and coming here and talking about how proud I was of the guys even though we lost and everything. I had all my losing speeches ready,” he admitted. “I didn’t have any winning speeches ready.”
Instead, Cone arrived in the press room as the winning coach and he has import Justin Brownlee, among a handful of heroes, to thank for.
“One of my losing speeches was I hope Justin would come back and play for us next year, but now, I guess he’s going to come back and play for us in a couple of days, so that’s better,” Cone said as Brownlee matches up with another prolific reinforcement in Allen Durham of Meralco in the finals.
While he has been consistent on offense, scoring a team-high 26 points in the decider, Brownlee showed his defensive prowess by shackling reigning MVP June Mar Fajardo, who managed to take just one attempt and score all his seven points from the charity stripe.
“Just had an incredible defensive job on June Mar,” Cone said. “I know it’s not over yet, but it’s hard to explain how much Justin has meant to us in terms of not just playing the game, but off the court in terms of being a great guy and easy to coach, and believing in everything we do and believing in his teammates.”
And that was enough for Cone to compare Brownlee to probably the best import who played under him in Sean Chambers, who led Alaska to six championships, the most among imports, including two that completed their Grand Slam conquest in 1996.
“In twenty-seven years, he’s really the only import that’s come closest to Sean Chambers that I have coached,” Cone said of Brownlee, who came in originally as a replacement for Paul Harris. “I can’t think of a better compliment than that.”
Cone said Brownlee hit the “biggest shot of the game” when his import knocked down a left-corner three-pointer that put an end to SMB’s backbreaking 24-0 run in the second quarter that restored order.
“I just try to stay aggressive, I knew eventually if I keep shooting, I knew they would start falling,” Brownlee said. “Whether I miss or make, I try to stay with the same confidence and today I was very fortunate enough to get some shots to go in.”
And that’s what he’s expected to do in the finals against the Bolts, starting in Game One on Friday night.