Bolts have momentum; Kings out to wrest lead
MANILA, Philippines — After splitting their first four games, reigning champ Barangay Ginebra and Meralco bring their title playoff tonight to the Philippine Arena, the 55,000-seater dome in Bocaue, Bulacan that will be the venue for the rest of the PBA Governors Cup best-of-seven series.
The Philippine Arena, sitting in a vast complex by the side of the North Luzon Expressway, is hosting the climax of the Ginebra-Meralco title rematch that has turned to be a war of attrition as expected by many.
But there’s a momentum shift, with the Bolts riding the crest of back-to-back victories as they battle the beleaguered Kings in the pivotal Game Five with tip-off set at 6:30 p.m.
The Bolts are determined to get going while the Kings are raring to reclaim control in the series that is now a best-of-three affair.
“I’m sure it’s gonna be difficult moving forward but it’s a lot better at 2-2 than 3-1. We’re playing at least two games in the Philippine Arena, and it’s gonna be exciting,” said Meralco coach Norman Black.
“It’s a best-of-three now. Like in a game, we have lost our lead and now have to pick up our game. But what’s done is done. We have to play from here. I have great faith in our players that we can regain control of the series,” said Ginebra coach Tim Cone.
The Kings have played twice in the Philippine Arena before, beating the TNT KaTropa Texters in the 2014-15 season opener, then topping the Star Hotshots in a Christmas Day showdown last year.
Ginebra, however, has also lost a key player to an injury. Sol Mercado sustained an ankle sprain in crashing to the floor after challenging a crucial drive by Jared Dillinger at endgame Friday night.
“Sol will not play Sunday so it’s next man up for us,” said Cone.
Meralco lost Ranidel de Ocampo also to an injury earlier, but the Bolts coped up at least in the last two games which they won on decisive closing runs.
They took Game Three at 94-81 and Game Four at 85-83.
“It’s a morale-booster for us and we need to see what we can do to keep our guys fresh. Because as you get down the road, obviously the guys become tired because of the grind,” said Black.
“It’s important for us because we’ve lost a key player in Ranidel, and we knew we needed everybody to step up and contribute for us to win. That’s what happened (in the last two games). But even with that, it’s a struggle,” Black also said.
The Kings, meanwhile, are keeping a positive posture despite back-to-back losses.
“They’ve done a good job of pinpointing some of our weaknesses. We’re not able to play to our strengths. But we have some versatility and we could do some things a lot better than we did (the last time),” said Cone.
The twice grand slam-winning coach said they would have a good chance to regain the lead in the series if they can neutralize Meralco’s perimeter shooting.
“They’re doing a good job keeping us from playing to our strengths. Reynel (Hugnatan) is hitting almost 60 percent from the three-point line, and he’s extending our big and we can’t dominate as we want to inside the paint,” Cone pointed out.
Hugnatan has stepped up on De Ocampo’s exit, going 7-of-12 from the arc in Game Three and 4-of-8 in Game Four.
Then there’s Allen Durham who’s a tremendous boost to the Bolts.
“He’s driven to win this series. He’s here last year and didn’t win it. And the way he didn’t win it was not very nice,” said Black.