We all know how the 2016 PBA Governors’ Cup finals ended: Justin Brownlee against Allen Durham. Top of the key with more or less five seconds remaining in Game 6, the score tied at 88 apiece.
Meralco needed a win to force sudden-death. But Brownlee thwarted all of those plans.
Brownlee dribbles, moves closer, pulls up as tena of thousands of fans inside the Smart-Araneta Coliseum had their cellphone lights on as if it was a concert.
The buzzer sounds.
Brownlee for three at the buzzer. Hysteria ensues.
Ginebra ends their eight-year championship drought in one of the most poetic ways possible, winning the series in six games.
It proved to be an electrifying series, and the second installment will look to be even more exciting as the hype continues to build up.
The opening game of the best-of-seven 2017 Governors’ Cup finals series between the defending champions Barangay Ginebra San Miguel and conference top seed Meralco Bolts will tip off in Lucena this Friday.
It’s one of the most anticipated finals rematches in recent PBA history. Meralco and Ginebra are back in the finals of the same conference just a year after, a feat last done by San Miguel and Alaska (2015 and 2016 Philippine Cups).
Everyone is excited for what the budding rivalry has to offer for the teams’ respective fans and basketball in general. Here are what people involved had to say in a pre-Finals press conference last Tuesday at Sambokojin Eastwood.
“As much as we want a short series, two tough teams in battle ito, so I think it will be a long series knowing Meralco. Sila ang no. 1 team ngayon sa conference. For us, it is really hard to tell kung mailki o mahaba. Definitely for me, I think it will be a long series.”
– LA Tenorio
Meralco finished with a 9-2 record in the Governors’ Cup elimination round to gain the overall top seed. Speaking of number ones, the Bolts are the top team in the league in points allowed and, surprisingly, three-point percentage.
“Glad to be back in the Finals. Two great teams, two great coaches, great companies. It will be a hard-fought series, a long series, (and) I will be ready.”
– Justin Brownlee
Brownlee is coming off an extraordinary performance as Ginebra closed out their semi-finals series against TNT KaTropa in four games last season, where Brownlee broke the 40-point barrier.
This will be the toughest challenge yet for Brownlee against one of the best rebounding teams and a team with tons of defenders in the perimeter.
“It’s definitely a blessing to be back in the finals. Last time around we did a lot of taking in the moment being the first finals appearance as well as a lot of guys in Meralco. I think this time it is going to be different. We know what to expect. It’s not just making the finals but winning it this year.”
I think there is no way to do it but to take out the defending champions. They are the guys. I feel if we are going to get the championship this year, it’s going to be against the defending champions. I feel with the additions we have this year, we will have a better series this year.”
– Chris Newsome
There are two common ways of improving from last season: internal improvement and adding more talent. Meralco did both, with guys like Newsome and Baser Amer taking their games to another level while acquiring more experience and talent in Ranidel de Ocampo, Mike Tolomia, and Garvo Lanete. And for Newsome, it’s only necessary to end this conference with the championship.
“It’s definitely a blessing to be back in this position. We want to finish it this year. We are looking forward to a long hard-fought series from both sides. I can’t wait for Friday.”
– Allen Durham
“Itong Meralco team, sa tingin ko, deserve nila magchampion ngayon. Championship ang kailangan ng Meralco para maging kumpleto ang campaign ng Meralco team. Ready kami. We’re ready for a war. Bibigay namin lahat ng best namin. Syempre hindi biro kalaban ang Ginebra. Maganda rin nilaro nila sa series nila sa TNT. Sa tingin ko magiging magandang series itong Finals.”
– Ranidel De Ocampo
De Ocampo also jokingly thanked TNT as the trade eventually put him in another finals appearance. But in all seriousness, he has been one of the keys for the Bolts since his arrival, giving the team more space and also another extra body inside the post.
“Can we have Joe (Devance) talk first instead of me?
All jokes aside, we’re hungry. Last year, obviously I wasn’t able to play. I spent the whole year hoping, praying I will be able to play against these guys and now I have a chance to take it to them. This one is really special for me.”
– Jared Dillinger
Dillinger also took the moment to open up about his dying grandmother whom they affectionately call Mamang Theresa. In an emotional moment, Dillinger said his grandma has been very supportive, even telling him not to fly to California and just focus on playing in the conference.
“In the beginning of the conference, I kind of worried my grandmother is not going to live too much longer. Mentally, I was struggling. We were talking everyday and e didn’t want me to fly there and she wanted me to focus on this season,” Dillinger said. “She promised me very single breath in her body she is gonna make sure to watch me play in the PBA Finals. For sure that is going to keep me going. That is really where my inspiration is coming from. She is fighting for her dear life just to hear my voice or hear how I did and how I play. I wish we could start tomorrow. I don’t want her to miss anything. God forbid she passes away, I just want her to see one.”
– Jared Dillinger
The wing man has had a great comeback in this Governors’ Cup, averaging 10.4 PPG, one of only four Bolts in double-digit scoring while shooting 39.6 percent from deep. He dedicates the finals to his grandma, whom he said continues to save strength to watch his games.
Head coach Norman Black also shared that team governor Al Panlilio has been sick and that likewise, he has been a “source of inspiration” for the team.
“Al Panlilio has really been a source of inspiration of us. He has been battling an illness. He is getting better, getting stronger and hopefully he should be able to watch some games with us.”
– Coach Norman Black
“I just wanna say it’s a blessing to be here. We just don’t as a player, as a team, we never know when this opportunity comes so you have to cherish every moment and take it day by day, enjoy it with your teammates, just the whole experience.
We play Meralco again. It’s gonna be a great series. We have a lot of history between us. Hopefully we can come out and just win the series it’s gonna be crazy. I hope you guys enjoy. I love you guys.”
– Joe Devance
“I am happy playing for my teammates, growing together, there are two great teams in the finals and I think it is going to be a great series. It is going to be an exciting one.”
– Japeth Aguilar
“I am really looking forward to this series. I had a lot of time, a lot of reflection when I was injured, learned a lot of things, and dreamed of this moment. Really excited to be here, we all are.”
– Greg Slaughter
Like Dillinger, Slaughter was not part of the 2016 Governors’ Cup finals due to an injury, and this is an experience he is looking forward to since returning to action.
“Glad to be part of these finals. If you were here (Narvasa was seated in between the two teams during the presser), you can already feel the energy and excitement. Me myself as a basketball fan, I can’t wait. We have the best of the best in the PBA today. This is a sequel. I hope it continues for a long, long time between these two franchises. I am looking forward to this historical moment between these two teams. And let’s be thankful these teams will give out their best.”
– Atty. Chito Narvasa, PBA Commissioner
“Very, very happy. Masaya ako. It’s a blessing to be in the Finals again. You’ll never really know when you get to the Finals again. I know they are capable of scoring a lot of points. We have the two best teams in the finals. Both teams are good defensive teams. I expect to set the defensive struggle. The most important is we come out competitive and try to win.”
– Coach Norman Black
Black saying the series involves the two best teams in the league right now is a very accurate description to make. Ginebra and Meralco are on top of many statistical leaderboards. They are one and two in team assists; Ginebra leads the league in blocks and field goal percentage, and are second in points and rebounds per game. Meralco allows the least points and rebounds. Defensively, the Bolts allow the least second chance and turnover points too.
“It’s always nice to be back here. It gets to be a tradition for (Ginebra) for a while now. We had a tough road to get here. We had to go through San Miguel and TNT. We came up short in the All-Filipino so I hope we are going to be able to use that experience for this one.
It’s going to be tough, it’s going to be rough, we couldn’t pick a more higher quality opponent, a more defensive team than Meralco. They have all bases covered. They are the dominant team this conference. (But) I think we are very hungry to win this one (after losing to San Miguel).
Meralco is one of the most balanced teams out there. It will be hard to dictate match-ups because they are so versatile.”
– Coach Tim Cone
Cone emphasized that this is his last chance this conference to add to his unmatched collection of PBA championships as head coach. It will not come easy, but it is why the upcoming finals is very interesting to see.
Games 2, 3, and 4 will be held at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum while Games 5, 6, and 7, if necessary, shall be hosted by the Philippine Arena.