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PBA: Crown to the Kings

Ginebra wins the Championship award (Rio Leonelle Deluvio)

The Kings are crownless no more.

In front of a crowd of 22,528, most of them flashing white light from their cellular phones, Barangay Ginebra San Miguel ended eight years of agonizing wait for a championship last night when Justin Brownlee climaxed an incredible comeback by swishing in a buzzer-beating 3-point shot at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Ginebra wrapped up the PBA Governors’ Cup Finals, 4-2, although it didn’t come to be until Brownlee, with the final 5.5 seconds winding down, dribbled to top of the keyhole and let fly before ran out.

It was the ninth overall title for Ginebra and its first since the 2008 Commissioner’s Cup with the legendary Robert Jaworski.

For Kings coach Tim Cone, meantime, it meant a 19th champoinship, yet another feather in his cap.

“Wow! What an ending! Some times players overcame bad coaching,” said Cone.

The buzzer-beater in a championship was the first since the 2001 Commissioner’s Cup Finals when Sta. Lucia Realty’s Chris Tan deflated San Miguel Beer from beyond the arc in Game 6.

Ironically, Bolts coach Norman Black was the recipient of Tan’s game winner, with Alfrancis Chua, now the Ginebra team manager and governor, Black’s assistant.

LA Tenorio, with averages of 17.2 ppg., 4.3 assists and 3.8 rebounds, was named Cignal Finals MVP by the PBA Press Corps.

Except for brief stretches in the first half, when Mark Caguioa and Jayjay Helterbrand were again turning back time, the only fire and intensity produced by Ginebra in the first 24 minutes cascaded from the stands – its tens of thousands of diehards who came to celebrate a coronation.

Tasked with closing out the best-of-7 series, the Kings instead left it wide open, missing their first five shots and going 7 of 17 from the field in trailing, 27-18, in the first quarter and 45-32 at the half.

Meralco was 12 of 18 in the opening period, racing to as many as 15 points, 33-18, to start the second quarter as the Kings got caught on several 24-second violations, passing the ball around instead of attacking as they did without letup in Game 5.

Not even the arrival of Jaworski, who fired up the crowd when he walked in with Meralco ahead, 9-2, could energize the Kings, who last won the title with the Big J as playing-coach and are trying to end an eight-year drought.

Indeed, Jaworski’s arrival signaled a renewed assault by Meralco, the amateur ballclub the proclaimed living legend of Philippine basketball played for in the fabled MICAA before the advent of the PBA in 1975.

Thrown into a defensive trap by the Kings, who either double-teamed Allen Durham or hounded him in a box-and-one, the Bolts import shot just 3 of 8, with the slack covered for by rookie Chris Newsome (5 of 8) and veteran Reynel Hugnatan (4 of 6).

Then came the third quarter and LA Tenorio rising to the occasion after a 4-point first half.

Tenorio exploded for 14 points on 6 of 10 from the field while Justin Brownlee, quiet in the first half, made his presence felt with 10 points.

A Scottie Thompson 3-point play gave Ginebra its first taste of the lead, 65-64.

Meanwhile, the PBA and the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) formally announced the Gilas Cadet unit that would be part of a special Rookie Draft scheduled Oct. 30 at the Robinson’s Ermita, Manila.

The 12 players are Mac Belo, Carl Bryan Cruz, Ed Daquioag, Russel Escoto, Kevin Ferrer, Jio Jalalon, Von Pessumal, Roger Pogoy, Mike Tolomia, Arnold Van Opstal, Matthew Wright and Alfonso Gotladero.

Also on the Gilas 5.0 list, to be handled by returning national team head coach Chot Reyes, is PBA free agent Almond Vosotros, who last played for the Blackwater Elite.

“That will make up the Gilas Cadet list agreed upon by the PBA,” said SBP president Al Panlilio in a press briefing during halftime of Game 6.

Under the agreement, the pro league will hold a special draft for the Gilas Cadet, where the 12 teams will select one player based on the their respective finish this season.

The teams are also not allowed to trade the picks – prior to the drafting process – and the players after they were chosen for the next two years. PBA commissioner Chito Narvasa said that the salary of the cadet is still being discussed between the SBP and the PBA. (With a report from Waylon Galvez)