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(Smart Araneta Coliseum)
7 p.m. – Meralco vs Ginebra
PBA Governors’ Cup Finals.
The psy-war between coaches Tim Cone and Norman Black has begun.
Cone, the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel mentor, disagrees with the premise that Meralco – a first time finalist – would be an easy target for the Kings in the finals of the PBA Governors’ Cup.
Led by Black, the Bolts are no pushovers, Cone believes.
With that backdrop, expect an exciting showdown as Ginebra and Meralco meet in Game 1 of the best-of-seven Finals in the season-ending PBA Governors’ Cup today at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“Norman Black is not a first-timer,” said Cone, who has battled and beat Black in two championship series in the past. “Norman, obviously, he tore apart TNT… nobody can tear apart TNT, and they dominated that series. It wasn’t that close.”
“I remember the year I came in the league (1989) was the year he won the Grand Slam (with San Miguel Beer)… so I felt my whole career was based on trying to climb over him because Baby Dalupan was retiring soon and he was the new benchmark.”
“The organization (Meralco Bolts) maybe new to the finals, but he’s been there,” said Cone, who now owns the league record of 18 titles while Black has 11 behind Dalupan’s 15 championships.
The two squads arranged a first-ever championship battle after dispatching their respective opponents, with Ginebra dethroning San Miguel Beer in a thrilling do-or-die Game 5 while Meralco stunned top seed TNT KaTropa in four matches in the semis.
The series-opener is scheduled at 7 p.m.
This is the first time Meralco is playing in the finals since joining the PBA back in 2011, while Ginebra is back for the 22nd time and first since losing to Alaska in the 2013 Commissioner’s Cup finals.
Ginebra is likewise aiming for its first championship since winning the 2008 Fiesta Cup under coach Jong Uichico.
As for the Cone-Black collision, they have met twice in the finals and Cone defeated Black in both instances when they were with their previous ball clubs as Alaska defeated San Miguel Beer in the 1995 Governors’ Cup and San Mig Super Coffee downed TNT in the 2014 Commissioner’s Cup.
“It’s a good feeling to be in the finals for the first time with the Meralco team,” said Black. “I’m sure most people will consider us the underdog, but I can assure you we will be ready to play.”
“Defense will probably be the key to the series because the only way to beat a good defensive team like Ginebra is to defend them. Both teams have very good imports so I’m expecting the performance of the local players will be very important.
“I have a lot of respect for coach Tim and I’m expecting the series to be very competitive,” added Black, whose last championship was when Talk ’N Text won the 2013 Philippine Cup against Rain or Shine.
In yesterday’s Finals press conference, Meralco forward Jared Dillinger mentioned that media and PBA fans are already counting on Ginebra winning the series, saying: “99 percent of the media and the fans are saying Ginebra’s going to win the series. But we’re going to go hard. We’ll battle and try to win the series.”
Ginebra guard Sol Mercado differs, however.
“Contrary to what JD said… we don’t look at it that way. They beat the No. 1 team, which is TNT and that was no fluke. They beat the best team for a reason, and we know it’s going to be an all-out war.”
In their lone meeting this conference, Ginebra defeated Meralco, 107-93, as Kings reinforcement Justin Brownlee collected 26 points, three rebounds and six assists in outplaying Bolts counterpart Allen Durham, who finished with 17 points on 8-of-18 shooting from the field with 12 boards.
The two imports – strong contenders for the Bobby Parks Award – are expected to go at each other anew as Brownlee averages nearly 30 points and 12 boards this conference while Durham has 30 points and 15 rebounds.
“A lot of the Ginebra players have been there before (playing/winning in the finals),” Black said, referring to the likes of LA Tenorio, Mark Caguioa, Jayjay Helterbrand, Joe Devance and Jervy Cruz. “Fortunately for us, the game is played on the basketball court, not on paper.”
Cone also doesn’t believe in the notion that they are the favorites.
“I think they (fans) are hoping for us to win, not expecting,” said Cone. “They’re my team so I’m hoping that they’ll win too. But we’re so evenly matched with Meralco and we kind of mirror each other.”
Cone also mentioned the veteran point guard Jimmy Alapag – his leadership – could be the ex-factor for the Bolts.