MANILA, Philippines – Barangay Ginebra San Miguel was up and down through 48 minutes of basketball against rival Star Hotshots on Sunday, February 28.
They came out guns blazing to take command of the first half and lead 56-48, but they gave up momentum in the third and absorbed 3 sharp 3-point arrows from Mark Barroca.
It seemed like another Ginebra meltdown was afoot early in the fourth until the league’s most popular ballclub fought back, then went back-and-forth until LA Tenorio hit the game-clinching basket with 28.8 seconds remaining.
For all the times they kept sliding backwards Sunday, after the final buzzer sounded, the Gin Kings knew they had taken a couple steps forward.
“This game was a good sign for us. It’s really a good sign, especially since it was a ‘Manila Clasico,'” said Tenorio in Filipino after the 92-87 thrilling squeaker in the 2016 PBA Commissioner’s Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. “I just hope we stay consistent. I hope every game we realize how important those kinds of games are for us to build the character of the whole team.”
The win certainly did not put an end to Ginebra’s 8-year title drought – and it could seem insignificant this early in the conference – but it did give the team a 2-2 record after a 0-2 start and it moved them a bit closer to where they want to be.
“The good news for our team is we settled, we didn't panic, and we worked our way back into the game," said head coach Tim Cone of how his team handled Star’s pressure and momentum in the fourth. "And that means we're growing up a little bit. This team is growing up a little bit.”
Tenorio likewise played down his game-winning jumper as he highlighted the importance of a win like that for a team struggling for form and identity this season under Cone’s new leadership.
“More than the shot I think it was our team’s character defensively,” said the veteran guard, who also admitted he’s making a conscious effort to sacrifice his shots for the betterment of the team. “I think these are the kinds of games we need to win because this is what will build our team's character to becoming a great team.”
Tenorio, who is pouring all his energy into his role of “orchestrating the offense and playing defense,” finished with 12 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal. He had only 9 shot attempts and made 5 of them.
A big difference Tenorio sees in the team now is the willingness to play defense, particularly with Ginebra’s frontline.
“Coach Tim really tests them to play defense and they’re really responding,” he explained. “I have to give credit to Greg (Slaughter), Japeth (Aguilar), Joe (Devance) and Dave (Marcelo) also. Their willingness to play defense is really there. And it’s a big lift to the team because we become intimidating. Whenever someone drives to the basket, they’re right there.”
Ginebra’s big men carried the offensive load on Sunday with import Othyus Jeffers scoring 23 points, grabbing 15 rebounds and dishing out 7 assists. The 7-foot Greg Slaughter went for 14 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, two steals and two blocks.
And Japeth Aguilar, who came out aggressive from the start, had 15 points on 6-of-13 field goals to go with 5 rebounds and two blocks.
Aguilar had a few highlight-reel plays involving a thunderous first half dunk and a huge block on Star import Denzel Bowles down the stretch.
“One factor was I knew he would take the shot and he would be aggressive, so I was able to anticipate him,” Aguilar said in Filipino of the big defensive stop inside the final minute.
Despite the big responsibility of having to handle other teams' reinforcements together with Slaughter, Aguilar refused to be called an “import stopper.”
“Import stopper seems too much but I’m committed to learning,” he said.
Aguilar, who was adamant on sharing the credit with his teammates, also spoke about his playing better defense.
“The credit isn’t mine alone, it goes to my teammates too,” he said. “I can’t take all the credit because I know my teammates got my back all the time. Coming to this game I had only one mindset: to be committed on defense. My teammates stepped up because they were always on the help side every time Denzel penetrated.”
Ginebra’s character and that commitment to defense will be tested anew on Wednesday, March 2 against a dangerous Mahindra currently at second place with a 3-1 record and back-to-back wins.
“Hopefully we can stay consistent,” Tenorio said. – Rappler.com