When Justin Brownlee hit that game winner in game 6 to win Ginebra its first PBA championship in eight years in 2016, the landscape of the Barangay quickly changed. After years of mediocrity and failed championship aspirations, Ginebra started to be seen as a title contender every conference.
Since 2016, Ginebra has won four PBA titles. In all of these titles, there was always one common denominator: Justin Brownlee. Although several roster tweaks and major coaching upgrades may have contributed to their winning ways, there is no denying that Brownlee is the main reason for Ginebra’s recent success.
At least, that used to be the case.
Ginebra head coach Tim Cone has always preached ball movement and teamwork. He is also known for his use of the triangle offense. But because of the intricacies of this offensive set, it often requires a natural scorer or a bail-out guy, if you will, for it to work. That’s exactly what Justin Brownlee is. In Ginebra’s first three championship runs under Tim Cone, it was Brownlee who was doing the heavy lifting, practically carrying the team on his broad capable shoulders.
But Friday night was different, Ginebra made quick work of Meralco and closed out the Governor’s Cup finals series in just five games to win its fourth championship during the Brownlee era.
Sure, Ginebra’s resident import had his usual production, carrying the scoring burden once again, but this time, he was not carrying it alone. The local players stepped up in different ways to ensure that the Gin Kings were once again seated on their Governor’s Cup throne.
The most noticeable of the locals in the series was Finals MVP Japeth Aguilar. Japeth put up a MONSTER series against Meralco. He averaged 17.4 points, 7 rebounds and a whopping 3.4 blocks per game. He was unbelievable on both ends of the court.
Offensively, he was hitting his mid-range shots consistently, diving effectively to the baskets off of pick and rolls and running the floor on fast breaks for easy hoops. And in the series clinching game on Friday, Aguilar was feasting with dunks to put on an emphatic note to his MVP performance.
Because of his mobility and knack for making shots though contact, Japeth put a ton of pressure of Meralco’s frontcourt players which proved problematic for the Bolts given their already height disadvantage.
On the defensive end, he has been anchoring Ginebra’s elite defense ever since. In this series, Aguilar took to greater heights defensively highlighted by his game-saving block in Game 1 on a driving layup by Meralco import Allen Durham.
Another local who contributed a lot for Ginebra was Stanley Pringle. Acquired via trade during the 2019 Commissioner’s Cup, Pringle felt more at home during the Governor’s Cup campaign and definitely made a difference in the finals. He put up 18.4 points and 4.4 assists per game and was in close contention for Finals MVP if not for Japeth’s all-around dominance.
In the first two Finals meetings of Ginebra and Meralco, it was Brownlee and LA Tenorio who did most of the on-ball playmaking especially on their pick-and-roll attacks. But with the presence of Pringle, new dynamics were opened up for Ginebra during the series.
Pringle was aggressively attacking on fast breaks, either finishing with crowd aweing acrobatic layups or setting up shooters and on half-court offense, he was splendid in putting the ball on the right spots for his teammates to score.
In a crucial Game 3, Pringle exploded for 17 points in third quarter and finished with 21 points. His 17 point third quarter explosion capped off a game shifting run that placed Ginebra ahead of the series for good.
LA Tenorio’s production in this series may have declined from his previous output, especially since he was the two-time Governor’s Cup Finals MVP, but his impact in the series never wavered.
Granted that he may not have scored as much as he used to, but the timeliness of his shots was key for Ginebra. In Game 1, Tenorio made three crucial layups off of pick and roll situations during a crucial stretch off the 4th quarter, one being his patented “pambansang reverse layup”. In Game 3, after squandering a lead late in the fourth period, it was Tenorio’s three-pointer with 1:47 left that put things back in order for Ginebra.
Tenorio may not have repeated as the Finals MVP for the Gin Kings, but there was no denying that he will always be made for the big moments.
Being the core local players for the Gin Kings, Aguilar, Pringle, and Tenorio lived up to what was expected of them in the series. The three of them ran the show on offense, but two other local players stepped up big time for Ginebra in different ways, more specifically, on the defensive end and on the intangibles that are not seen on the box score: Scottie Thompson and Aljon Mariano.
In the first three games of the series, Meralco guard Chris Newsome was averaging almost 22 points per game and was basically having a field day in his mid-range game. But in games 4 and 5, he was held down to 12 points and 13 points respectively.
And it all happened because coach Tim Cone assigned Thompson to guard Newsome. Thompson was quick to match Newsome’s athletic ability and made it hard for the former Blue Eagle to put up his usual big numbers.
The “magic bunot” of the series for Ginebra, however, was Aljon Mariano. Yes, his numbers and the way he plays may not be pretty but Mariano’s physicality on Allen Durham made a difference.
His extra antics to psych out Durham may not have worked directly since Durham still had his way, but it gave extra fire for the Ginebra crowd.
Both Thompson and Mariano also came up huge in Game 5 with Thompson scoring 14 points while Mariano providing the spark during Ginebra’s pull away in the fourth quarter.
While Barangay Ginebra is still not a powerhouse dynasty like the San Miguel Beermen despite their recent championship success, the Gin Kings definitely have the right pieces to become one.
For now, let the Governor’s Cup Kings savor their fourth championship with Brownlee. But to be able to finally break free from their Brownlee dependence and capture the elusive All-Filipino crown, their local players must remember the way they played in this series and bring that same fire to every game of the next conference.