Ginebra 93 – Star 86
Those who stayed glued to their TV sets, or phone or PC screens for game four couldn’t have missed the final offensive possession of Barangay Ginebra in this series-tying win: a two-on-one fastbreak situation for the Kings wherein Japeth Aguilar received an outlet pass, then handed it off to Jervy Cruz at the perfect moment for the easy basket, plus contact.
That three-point play capped Cruz’s big night as he finished with a team-high 21 points which included an 11-of-13 clip for the foul line, and iced the game, to let Ginebra knot their semifinals series versus the Star Hotshots at two games each.
While there was nothing spectacular about the fastbreak conversion, come to think of it, those who’ve followed Aguilar for a long time would have assumed he’d bobble the pass or blow the opportunity himself.
It would have been a different scene — but only if that was the Japeth Aguilar of old which handled that play.
This Aguilar has been playing at his best level recently as far as basketball fundamentals are concerned. Have you seen him jump at a pump fake around the rim or get lost in the paint on defense? These days, you’d have to go back and scour the entire game just to look for a bad moment.
His patience on the defensive end has been commendable so far. His lateral quickness has enabled him to be of good help defensively. Even on offense, Aguilar continues to try some new things on the floor, while reading the offense well.
Why I’m mentioning all of this is because Aguilar’s continuous improvement is really a microcosm of the entire Ginebra squad’s own progress.
What we’ve seen in the past two games (and even the two close losses to open the series) is a Ginebra team that has stuck well to their fundamentals. Four games into the series and that dedication has earned them a shot at stealing the momentum in this tightly-contested semifinals battle.
In the series, Ginebra has forced Star to play at their pace — the slow, deliberate, patient kind of pace they want opponents to get lulled into.
Ginebra did lose the first two meetings. In game one, Paul Lee hit the dagger, while in game two, a missed boxout on Rafi Reavis led to them surrendering an offensive board in the dying moments of the fourth period.
But after both occasions, Ginebra knew that they could hang with the Hotshots from start to finish, and just a few adjustments and better decision-making would enable them to get back in the series.
That was what happened in game three when the Kings’ effort was just off the charts. Game four was no different as they again stuck to their system, confusing Star with all their pinpoint passing, patient execution, and smart defending.
And in the end, those little things usually spell the difference between winning and losing in a tight playoff duel. And so concentrating on the basics did it anew for Ginebra.
Aguilar finished with 18 points of his own on 8-of-15 shooting. He also had 10 rebounds and two assists. Chris Ellis came off the bench with 10 points, while Sol Mercado and Kevin Ferrer each added nine markers.
Ginebra controlled the rebounding battle, 46-43, and dished out more assists than Star, 21-17.
For the Hotshots, shooting once again became a major concern. They hit only 5-for-24 from three-point area, as guys like Lee (1-of-6 3s), Mark Barroca (four points, six turnovers), and Justin Melton (0-of-5 3s) all struggled from the floor.
Allein Maliksi led the team with 18 points, while Jio Jalalon provided 16 markers off the bench. Both shot 50 percent from the floor.
Momentum in the series has shifted to the side of Ginebra after the win, and as they continue to trap Star into playing their style, the Hotshots will need to come up with serious adjustments to regain the series lead that just vanquished.
Videos c/o Sports 5’s YouTube channel, photo c/o PBA Images