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Ginebra ties series on Mercado putback.

Next move, Norman Black.

Barangay Ginebra San Miguel mentor Tim Cone knows that playing against the Meralco coach is like being in a chess match, and that after the Kings downed the Bolts to tie their finals series at 1-1, it’s now the turn of his fellow Grand Slam winner to make the ensuing move.

“Norman’s going to figure out things to do,” said Cone, adding that the two-day break would be crucial for both teams, with Ginebra thinking of ways to keep up the energy for Game 3 and Meralco trying to find ways to get back the lead in the championship series.

Ginebra rebounded from a 114-109 overtime defeat to Meralco in the series opener by posting a thrilling 82-79 victory behind the solid effort from import Justin Brownlee and the endgame heroics of Sol Mercado in front of nearly 19,000 fans that flocked Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

The biggest difference for Ginebra was the aggressiveness of Brownlee, who struggled in the first game with 17 points but exploded for 32 points and added 12 rebounds in Game 2.

Brownlee turned it on after losing the Bobby Parks Best Import award to Meralco counterpart Allen Durham – the second import for the franchise to win the plum after Arinze Onuaku bagged it during the Commissioner’s Cup.

Brownlee went 12-of-26 from the field, attacking the basket in most part of the game, particularly in the fourth quarter where his short jump shot leveled the score at 79-all with 2:04 left in the game.

It wasn’t just Brownlee who stepped up for Ginebra as Mercado came through with a clutch play.

After a missed running jumper by LA Tenorio with the shot clock almost over, the 6-foot-1 Mercado snatched the ball from the taller Durham, who stands 6-foot-5, and the 6-foot-4 Reynel Hugnatan and scored on a put back.

That gave the Kings an 81-79 advantage. After a missed shot by Durham, Tenorio split his free throws to give Ginebra a three-point cushion, 82-79 with 13.4 seconds remaining.

Meralco had a chance to send the match into overtime for the second straight time, but Durham and Cliff Hodge missed their triple ties as the final buzzer sounded.

The win snapped a four-game winning streak by Meralco dating back to the second game of its semifinal series against top seed TNT KaTropa.

“Now the ball’s in their court… they have to make the adjustments,” said Cone. “Definitely a must win for us. We really have to reach really deep to break their momentum.”

Game 3 is on Wednesday evening at the Big Dome.

Aside from delivering a clutch basket, Mercado was superb all game long on the defensive end, limiting Durham to just 22 points on 10-of-24 shooting from the field after scoring 46 points in Game 1.

“Sol was our MVP tonight,” said Cone. “Pound for pound one of the strongest players out there (in the PBA).”

According to Durham, he said he was caught off-guard with Cone’s decision to put a smaller defender on him in Mercado instead of his usual defenders Japeth Aguilar and Brownlee.

“He’s a tough defender,” Durham said of Mercado. It caught me a little off-guard. We tried to do some things but to try to make a change during the game is kind of hard ‘cause everything is going so fast-paced,” said Durham.

Mercado said that it was moments before the game that Cone informed him of the big defensive assignment, and took it as a huge challenge.

“From the beginning I started on Durham, just trying to get him out of his spots, fronting him and trying
to make him work,” said Mercado.

“I was trying to run him out of the perimeter, stay in front of him, he’s a really good player,” added Mercado, who is playing in his first finals after stints with Rain or Shine, Meralco and Globalport.