MANILA, Philippines – Jean Marc Pingris wasn’t sure he would play for San Mig Coffee in Game 7 after he sprained his left ankle in Game 6.
Pingris had been limping when he emerged from the dugout after losing to Petron in Game 6 and walked slowly out of the arena. He was not a 100 percent for Game 7. He had taken painkillers, taped his ankle and played through the pain. And even after the celebrations had died down, his ankle still hurt.
“And then kinausap ako noong sa practice, ‘Ano hundred percent ka ba, kaya mo ba talaga?’ (Sabi ko naman) ‘Yes, coach. Last na ‘to. Last game.’ So dinaan ko na lang talaga sa gamot tsaka sa tape.” (I was asked if I’d be 100 percent ready for the final game. I said yes. I just took medicines and used tape.)
Pingris sprained his right ankle during Gilas Pilipinas’ monumental run for the FIBA Asia tournament. It affected his right hamstring but in the critical semifinal against South Korea, Pingris had 16 points and 10 rebounds as Gilas Pilipinas defeated their nemesis to enter the FIBA finals.
This time, Pingris did not disappoint the San Mig Coffee planet that yelled their hearts out for him all night long. (READ: San Mig Coffee survives Petron to bag PBA crown)
Pingris faced his Gilas Pilipinas teammate Junmar Fajardo, who is taller by 7 inches. Using his quickness , Pingris beat Fajardo for the ball. It didn’t seem like height was even an issue. “I can’t push him. June Mar is strong. I had to be quick,” said Pingris. “Even if I am free, he could still block me so I had to move quickly and never mind if he blocks my shot.”
In Game 7, Pingris outrebounded Fajardo, 17-15, as Pingris relied on his agility and leaping ability. And although Fajardo outscored Pingris, 20-19, Fajardo was cold from the free throw line. Fajardo shot a miserable 4-of-12 while Pingris canned 7-of-8 charities.
Pingris said he texted Fajardo, with whom he plays DotA, before the game. “Sabi ko, ‘tol, galingan mo. At gagalingan ko rin. Alam ko naman na nasa puso natin ‘yung paglalaro ng basketball. Laro lang tayo,’” shared Pingris. Pingris said Fajardo would’ve bagged the Finals MVP award had Petron won. “Nagkataon lang na nakuha namin. Alam ko kapag nakuha nila alam ko siya ang MVP eh.” (I told him, let’s give it our best shot. We both love basketball, so let’s just play. I know that had Petron won, Fajardo would have been MVP.)
All game long, Pingris kept his intensity. He took nothing to chance even as his team led. With under a minute left, he had a superb shot fake off Santos and Fajardo. Pingris looked around for his options and began positioning himself with his back to the basket, inching closer as Fajardo bodied him up. He attempted a turnaround shot but slammed into Fajardo in the lane, sending him to the foul line.
That’s when the chants of “MVP! MVP!” started to rock the SMART Araneta Coliseum.
With 30 seconds left, Pingris tried to save the ball from going out of bounds after a missed James Yap free throw. He lunged and landed onto people sitting on the sidelines. It was a turnover for the Mixers, but at that point, nobody really cared. Marqus Blakely went over to Pingris and helped his teammate up as everyone cheered.
Pingris let out his frustration for not saving the ball by hitting the hardwood.
In the next possession, Pingris found a way to let his frustration out by way of a clean, emphatic block on a shot attempt by Elijah Millsap with 21 seconds left. Mark Barroca then iced the game with two charities before a final foul sent Pingris to the line to set the final score at 87-77.
Pingris is exhausted from a long and eventful year where he starred for the Philippine team and returned to revive the Mixers’ hopes after it started with a 1-3 record.
Asked how tired he was, he exhaled deeply and managed a smile that spoke volumes of his dedication. “Sobra,” he said. “Sobrang pagod na ako.” (I’m very, very tired.)
As the balloons fell from above and the confetti colored the Big Dome, Pingris was sprawled on the court surrounded by thankful teammates.
“Every day gumigising kami, every day nasasaktan yung mga katawan namin. Andyan yung mga napipilayan ka,” he explained. “Hindi swerte ‘yung nangyari sa amin kasi pinaghihirapan namin eh. Reward yun eh. Ang swerte yung tumatama sa lotto. Pero ito talagang pinaghihirapan namin eh.” (We worked hard every day. What happened to us was not brought about by luck. This is reward, because we worked hard for it.)
The Pinoy Sakuragi received a well-deserved hero’s welcome from the league when he was proclaimed Finals MVP. He was welcomed by his supportive family when he climbed over to the patron area where his wife and children were waiting. He took his son and put him on his mighty shoulders for a romp around the court—even mouthing a thank you to coach Tim Cone while Cone was being interviewed on national television.
For Pingris, there’s only one word to describe this series. “Love,” he said with a smile. “Kasi love ko yung mga teammates ko. Kasi love ko yung work ko, love ko yung trabaho ko.” (I love my teammates. I love my work. I love the people I work with.)– Rappler.com