Barangay Ginebra San Miguel is currently tied with four other teams sporting identical 5-5 win-loss records at the fourth spot. Looking at their conference at a macro level, it wouldn’t be ludicrous to say that .500 ball is as underwhelming as IHOP’s menu. Heck, they have good enough ballers, they practically play “home games” every night, and they’re Barangay Ginebra. They should be playing better than what their record shows.
Actually, come to think of it, they are. Yes, 5-5 shouldn’t be a good record for good teams. But after losing five of their first six games, they now have won four in a row. And it’s not like the current streak that they’re on were built on playing four games in a row against the Batang Pier. They actually look like a prototypical US NCAA Tournament Cinderella team that has reached the Sweet 16 after upsetting big boy basketball programs one by one. In their first win, they beat a then undefeated Barako Bull. Then they played RoS to the last minute before ultimately losing in the end. In their next two games, they beat perennial powerhouses in SMC and TNT, both teams were on winning streaks at the time. And then they reel off two wins against the pesky-as-a-chihuahua Meralco Bolts and the miserable Barako Bull.
How have they turned the corner?
Well, I guess it has to be said first that Mark Caguioa, The Pinoy Vino, The Mompo, The Spark, “Pu***ina ang galing niya”, or whatever you want to call him, kept them alive and put them in a position where it was still possible to ‘turn the corner’. Watching him valiantly save their season by dropping 20-point bombs a night the way John Lloyd (oh you know which John Lloyd I’m talking about. I know you watch Pinoy movies.) drops those classic lines was like watching Littlefoot’s Mother save Littlefoot from Sharptooth — only Mark Caguioa is injured but still ‘alive’.
And of course there’s Vernon Macklin. You know how Calvin Abueva was injected into Alaska’s lineup a couple of game into the Philippine Cup? How all of a sudden The Beast gave Alaska the confidence, the grit, and the spunk it needed to compete? For me, that was V-Mack in a nutshell. More than the points, the rebounds, and the ability to catch a tough Tenorio pass off the pick and roll, it was the former Florida Gator’s energy and attitude — a far cry from Herbert Hill’s ho-hum laid back demeanor — that was an epidemic for the Barangay.
Mark Caguioa and Vernon Macklin are the two biggest reasons why Ginebra fans are glued to their TV sets again instead of switching back and forth between the AKTV channel and Gandang Gabi Vice every Sunday. But as we’ve learned from the Miami Heat’s 27-game winning streak and basketball’s 122-year history, everything can’t be done on the basketball court by two people only (except if you’re watching Dior Lowhorn and David Palmer try to save the Saigon Heat’s ABL season in vain). BGSM is sitting comfy at the 3rd spot in my power rankings because of total team effort.
Of course the third member of The Three San Miguels (sucks that I can’t call them The Three Kings, wait, “The Three San Miguels” doesn’t sound that bad does it?), L.A. Tenorio, leads the supporting cast. From looking like Steve Nash with the Lakers, L.A. Tenorio has reverted back to his old self, smiling and having fun. In BGSM’s current 4-game winning streak, Tenorio is averaging elite Pee Gee numbers of 16.25 ppg, 5.25 rpg, and 6.75 apg. And believe it or not the 4.75 turnovers per game he is averaging on the live streak is a damn good sign. It only means he’s handling the ball more and creating more opportunities for his teammates.
Because of that — from being the second worst offense in the L in the first part of the season averaging 87.4 points/ 100 possessions — Ginebra has evolved into an offensive juggernaut averaging 101 points/ 100 possessions in the last six games, the “Holy Weeks” (good for third best in that span, arguably second best because Barako Bull ‘boasts’ of the best offense in the same span). Here’s what has happened to Ginebra’s offense in the last six games:
1. They’re still playing at a fast pace (BGSM and RoS are distant second and first placers in the last six games in terms of pace, averaging 92 and 94 possessions per game respectively) but they’re now running with a clear purpose.
2. With L.A. Tenorio leading the break and being in better control of their possessions, that clear purpose is this: they’re going to the quick-hit offense, meaning if they don’t connect on the break, they set quick pick and rolls instead with Tenorio/Caguioa and Macklin as the main proponents.
3. There’s that and the old but reliable give-the-ball-to-MC47-and-get-the-eff-outta-the-way type of offense.
4. Another direct effect of Tenorio handling the ball more is that the ball is fluidly going thru more hands. Thus, the “hugots ni Chua” (at least that’s what I call them) have ultimately contributed better on offense. Take for example Kerby “The Rim Protector” Raymundo with 10 points and 3 boards in their last game. Or little Robi Labagala with 8 points against the Bolts. Or The H-Bomb with 6 points, 9 boards, and 4 assists against TNT. Or Billy Mams with 13 points against San Mig Coffee.
Again, as we’ve learned from the Miami Heat’s 27-game winning streak and basketball’s 122-year history, very good teams do it on both sides of the court. Ginebra’s turnaround has as much to do with their improvement on defense and not only their revved up O. From being the worst defensive team in the L allowing an astronomic 103.4 points/ 100 possessions in PBA standards, BGSM has been at par with the best defensive teams during the Holy Weeks allowing only 94.9 points/ 100 possessions.
V-Mack may only average 1.29 blocks per game, but he has anchored their defense significantly better than “Bistek” Hill. He’s more active and he moves better from east to west that’s why Ginebra has been defending the pick and roll better. The domino effect of his presence has motivated the other four players on the court to communicate better, slide their feet, and help each other on D.
Yes, 5 wins and 5 losses may be pretty underwhelming but in the Holy Weeks, in their last six games, BGSM has been one of the best teams in the L. Of course they may lose a few more games with MC47 recuperating from his latest injury but I don’t think they’ll disappoint fans at the end of the Kume’s Cup. They have remembered how to play tough and strong, how to be fan loving and kind, arrogant yet focused. They know how to play the Never Say “Die”, Barangay Ginebra brand of ball again.
Photos c/o InterAksyon.com/InterAKTV