[PBA season ender] ‘Never-say-die’ Ginebra seeks end to its dry spell



QUEZON CITY–Robert Jaworski, Sr.’s names continues to echo in modern-day Philippine basketball.

Look at what the Filipino cage legend did: Jaworski molded a brand, Ginebra, into a basketball cult (a barangay). Never-say-die, rough-and-tough, crazed fanaticism are that cult’s beliefs. The Philippine Basketball Association’s economic future, long overshadowed by a collegiate league, somewhat depended on this team. Ginebra’s legions of fans, whichever arena their Kings play (what more during a finals series), showed why the PBA is the nation’s pastime.

And on the 31st year of the never-say-die spirit, Barangay Ginebra San Miguel is buoying the PBA’s fortunes in an ongoing best-of-seven Governor’s Cup finals versus Meralco. Eight years has been Ginebra’s dry spell. A new breed of Gin Kings and its faithful want to end it all tonight at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Starting guard LA Tenorio and his Ginebra Gin Kings want to end it all tonight in Game 6 of the PBA Governor's Cup finals and grab its first PBA title in eight years (photo from the PBA's Facebook account).

Starting guard LA Tenorio and his Ginebra Gin Kings want to end it all tonight in Game 6 of the PBA Governor’s Cup finals and grab its first PBA title in eight years (photo from the PBA’s Facebook account).

Gin Kings Head Coach Tim Cone is no Jaworski, and this is Cone’s first finals under Ginebra after scoring two grand slam feats with Alaska and Purefoods. But in the heap of the excitement, there’s caution: The Bolts squad, on the brink of elimination, is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode, possibly to the Gin Kings’ detriment.

“A great team with their backs to the wall (is) really hard to beat, and they’re (Meralco) gonna be totally focused and concentrated. We’re just gonna see if we can meet their intensity,” Cone said.

It had been an entertaining series, starting off with a Game 1 overtime win by the Bolts; Meralco was down double-digits but not after forcing overtime. Ginebra won Game 2 convincingly but Meralco hung on with timely threes from elders Jimmy Alapag and Reynell Hugnatan for a Game 3 win.

Then the never-say-die mantra came at the right time. Down 16 in the fourth quarter, Ginebra’s elders Mark Caguioa and Anthony Helterbrand brought their team back up and the Gin Kings eked out an 88-86 squeaker in Game 4.

Game 5 was different: Ginebra’s guns were ablaze. Even a late-game Meralco rally wasn’t enough, what with off-guard Earl Scottie Thompson nailing the triple with some 44 ticks left to seal the deal for Ginebra.

Meralco import Allen Durham had been a major cog for the Bolts on both ends of the floor. But even if Justin Brownlee is being outstaged by Durham, Brownlee is balancing his scoring and rebounding production with those of his teammates.

“Our job this whole series is trying to keep him (Durham) unbalanced, trying to keep him guessing what we’re gonna do,” said Cone. “We gotta show him different looks every time out. This is the first time we put doubles on him, and you can be sure that if we do it in Game 6, Coach Norman is gonna have that thing all figured out, and he’s gonna be able to do it there.

Ginebra being never-say-die is now on its 31st year. On October 22, 1985, then playing coach Jaworski  had his lips stitched after a wayward elbow hit him. But he went back from the hospital to the playing court, the old ULTRA, and led then Ginebra San Miguel to a come-from-behind win over the Northern Consolidated Cement squad.

Jaworski’s return left the strong NCC squad stunned. No matter if the said squad went on to win the 1985 Asian Basketball Championships, Jaworski –busted lip and all– never withered that game.

And not withering these next two games of the Governor’s Cup Finals is what the Ginebra fans are hoping. (The Gin Kings almost withered in Game 4, squandering a double-digit lead.)

It may be an injustice to what Jaworski did 31 years ago if Ginebra’s 3-2 series lead goes up in smoke and former cellar-dweller Meralco wins its first PBA title.

“Closing a series to me is harder than winning a game 7,” said Cone after Ginebra’s 92-81 Game 5 win last Sunday.


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