DUBAI – Japeth Aguilar is back. And Greg Slaughter may not be too far behind.
With his broken-down Twin Towers returning to form, Barangay Ginebra San Miguel coach Frankie Lim sees signs of life for the 2-3 Kings in the PBA Governors’ Cup.
“I expect good things to happen sooner or later,” Lim said before the official back-to-back games at the Al Shabab Club. “Sana maumpisahan dito sa Dubai.”
The Kings, with Aguilar – in his first game this conference after suffering a pulled hamstring – starting at power forward against Rain or Shine Friday night, repaid Lim’s faith by turning back the Elasto Painters, 93-81, before thousands of screaming OFWs.
The scoring parade carried the names of Orlando Johnson (25 points), Mark Caguioa (16 first quarter points) and LA Tenorio (20 points, 11 rebounds), but the spotlight shone brightest on the 6-foot-10 former Ateneo Blue Eagle, who shrugged off throbbing pain at the back of his right thigh, especially when he sprints, to provide the Kings the ceiling they sorely missed when he and Slaughter went down with injuries a few days before the opening.
Aguilar finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks, stringing 9 straight points in the last 8 minutes that took the fight out of the E-Painters, who rallied from 20 points down to briefly seize control in the third quarter.
Bawled out by Lim in the Ginebra locker room after botching two scoring opportunities, Aguilar emerged from the break with a burning resolve.
“Masama yung umpisa ko kaya sabi ko sa sarili ko ‘kahit anong mangyari, babawi ako sa second half,’” he said in a barely audible voice inside the Kings dugout after the game, his Traders’ Hotel roommate Dorian Pena waiting for him before boarding the team bus.
With his heavily-taped thigh not yet at full strength, taking away much of his leaping ability, Aguilar said he had to “compensate” by putting more pressure on his left leg.
“Nakaka-frustrate talaga kasi di ko maigalaw mabuti kaya nalalagyan pa ng extra pressure yung kaliwa; parang dina-drag na lang yung kanan e,” he said. “Kailangan pa talagang palakasin pag balik namin sa Manila.”
Rain or Shine’s extremely physical game against Globalport 24 hours earlier became a burden for the Elasto Painters, Aguilar believes.
“Very fortunate kami na pagod ang Rain or Shine. I know that they’re really banged up. Grabe yung laro na ‘yon. Patayan talaga. We were just able to take opportunity of the situation,” he said.
Aguilar also deflected credit away from him on account of his double-double debut.
“Nag-switch sila (E-Painters) at pinabantayan ako sa mga guards so nagkaroon ako ng konting advantage na mag-post up sa offense,” he said.
With 7-foot Slaughter, his severely sprained frontline partner, scheduled to return on May 31 in time for the marquee matchup with Junemar Fajardo and San Miguel Beer, Aguilar echoed some of Lim’s sentiments.
“Mas maganda na ang ilalaro namin pag andito na rin si Greg,” he said. “Siempre at full strength na kami at di na masyadong maa-agrabyado sa ilalim.”
With a 60-46 advantage in rebounds and 48 to 24 points difference in scoring inside the paint against ROS on Aguilar’s return, Barangay Ginebra appears to be in good hands.
Slaughter can take all the time he needs to heal and not rush his comeback.