Who knew that three months of Governors’ Cup action would only lead to a rematch of last year’s Finals? Well, okay. We probably all shared the feeling that there was a huge possibility of another Meralco and Ginebra encounter. Both teams were just playing so well.
And there it was. Game one is in the bag; Ginebra called 1-0. The series is far from over though. I’m legitimately convinced that this would go the distance of seven games.
For now, let’s take a look at the stats sheet and see what we can take away from the series opener.
Before we get to the more important ones, here are some irrelevant numbers that led to game one of the PBA Finals: seven hours of travel to and from Lucena, 584 pesos of toll fees for a round trip, around 2,000 pesos worth of gas and 13 minutes of light dance awesomeness to kick things off.
Alright. With those out of the way, we dig into the box scores.
The most glaring disparity you’ll find is in rebounding. Ginebra grabbed a total of 59 boards compared to the 40 of Meralco. On the offensive end alone, the Kings had 21. They were only five away from tying the defensive total of the Bolts.
Rebounds – offensive or defensive – mean more possessions. That means more opportunities to score. This is where the Gin Kings enjoyed a significant advantage. They had 16 second chance points while Meralco only had eight.
Entering the series, we knew one thing: Ginebra would have size advantage. With Kelly Nabong suspended, no one on the Meralco roster is listed above 6’6”. Then they’re expected to put up with Coach Tim Cone’s frontcourt of Greg Slaughter (7’0”), Japeth Aguilar (6’9”) and Joe Devance (6’7”).
The barangay understandably controlled rebounding and scoring in the paint. Now, let’s look at how the Bolts could have countered that handicap.
A tactic we commonly hear is that you try to outrun the bigger teams. Unfortunately Meralco didn’t have that advantage. They scored eight points in transition while Ginebra had 19. Meralco could not even capitalize on the 19 turnovers the Kings committed.
The Bolts have the pieces to attack and hurt opponents when running the break. Imagine seeing Baser Amer, Chris Newsome and Cliff Hodge coming at you in full speed. That’s a sight we’ve seen more than a few times this season. But then you look at Ginebra. They’re not exactly a slow team.
Sol Mercado and Scottie Thompson are two guys who rarely step on the brakes, whether running on offense or defense. Japeth Aguilar is also a guy who has size but is still very agile. Although Japeth only had three rebounds in game one, his major contribution was the three blocks that he had. He, together with Slaughter, altered around half of Meralco’s attempts in the paint.
Okay, so Meralco wasn’t able to outrun Ginebra in game one. Maybe they could’ve used they’re outside shooting to open up the defense?
They tried. You could tell from the way they ran their halfcourt sets that they were looking to do damage from deep. But the shots were just not falling. Meralco shot 8-for-34 from three-point range. The barangay almost had as many makes in almost half of the Bolts’ attempts. Ginebra was 7-for-18.
At the end of the semifinals, Meralco was leading the league in three-point shooting with a 37 percent clip. One look at their roster and you’d understand why. Amer has remarkably improved his touch from deep. So did Jared Dillinger. Then they added two dead shots in Garvo Lanete and Ranidel de Ocampo. On top of all of that, even their import Allen Durham can hit the three.
But in game one, most of those guys suffered from off-nights. Durham missed all of his five attempts from outside. Jared was 1-for-9. RDO was 0-for-4. Garvo only made two of his six tries.
With the shots not falling in for Meralco, the defense of the Barangay had little to worry about aside from the paint. And when desperation pushed the Bolts to put their helmets on and attack, they only ran into the shot-swatting towers of the barangay.
So in a gist, game one was all about Ginebra exploiting its size advantage and Meralco failing to counter it.
But remember, as good as the players are in this series, mentoring the two teams are two legendary coaches. They say, in series like this, it’s all about the adjustments. Trust that Coach Norman Black will be ready to pull out some tricks in game two.
Uncredited photos from KC Cruz