Hobbled Pingris vows to give '200%' to help SMC win third straight title
Over the past year of the Philippine Basketball Association, no club has played more hoops than the San Mig Coffee Mixers, who are winners of two straight PBA titles, and are one more victory away from booking their ticket to another finals appearance, where a golden and rare opportunity awaits them if they are to come out on top against the awaiting Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters.
And out of everyone in the Mixers’ roster, no guy has devoted more time on the basketball court than Marc Pingris, who not only spends around 30 minutes a game providing non-stop, Dennis Rodman-like energy for Coach Tim Cone, but also donates the same effort for the country’s national team, Gilas Pilipinas, whose upcoming journey to Madrid, Spain, for the 2014 FIBA World Cup draws closer.
Pingris, who some like to call “Sakuragi” for his headstrong defensive approach, is not 100% percent right now, suffering from a variety of bruises that has taken a toll on him and has hindered some of his frenzy-like approach that has made SMC one of the most feared teams in the league in recent memory.
It’s why you can search the entire archipelago of the Philippines and not find a logical individual who happens to be an SMC fan who does not appreciate what Pingris does. It’s why you won’t find a single guy who loves watching basketball in this country and does not respect the resolve of the two-time Finals MVP.Take this instance for example: in Game 6 of the Finals of the All-Filipino Conference not that long ago, “Ping” was assigned to guard the heftier Beau Belga in the paint, but was forced to switch out to man Paul Lee the next moment. Nevertheless, he forced the explosive point guard into committing a turnover at a critical juncture of the game, bringing his club closer to another title. Those are traits you won’t just find anywhere, much less from a big man.
“There’s no doubt that right now Pingris is playing on fumes. Anything we can get from guys coming off the bench – Ian, we’re hoping to get more from Ian – but that really helps us out,” mentioned San Mig Cofee Head Coach Tim Cone after his team’s Game 3 84-73 victory over the Air 21 Express on Saturday.Nonetheless, even arguably Pingris’ biggest supporter is aware of the wear and tear his starting power forward is going through, and has requested his bench to take some of the load off his shoulders on the offensive side of the court.
Pingris, not long after, attested the sentiment shared by his coach.
“Kasi, ako, nagta-take parin ako nang medicine. Talaga, hindi ako 100 percent,” says the guy whose ribs are still giving him numerous troubles entering Game 5.
(I’m still taking medicine. To be honest, I’m still not 100 percent)
However, SMC Nation has nothing to fear, because Sakuragi, who is known for never giving less than full-throttle effort on the hardwood, vows to do whatever it takes in order to propel his team to victory – especially with such an amazing opportunity in the horizon. An opportunity that “The Rebounding Demon” has always dreamed of.
“Hindi ko naman iniisip kung may masakit saakin. Basta laro lang. Sabi ko rin kay coach kung saan makakaya ko, bibigay ko talaga,” says the 32-year-old Pangasinan native
(I don’t think of the injuries that are affecting me. I just got out and play. I also told coach that whatever I can contribute, I will)
Of course, there’s something else that pushes Marc to do whatever is necessary to help his club attain victory. A victory over the Express in Game 5 (Wednesday), and three more over the Tropang Texters would result to a third consecutive champion for San Mig Coffee in as many conferences.
Three titles in three separate conferences.
A Grand Slam of sorts.
Ping’s head coach, Tim Cone, knows what it takes to achieve that feat. In 1996, the Cone-mentored Alaska Milkmen – which were led by current SMC assistant coach Johnny Abarrientos – triumphed in all three conferences of the league that season, becoming the fourth and last squad to do so in the association’s nearly 40-year-old history.
“Well, for me, especially saakin, that’s my dream – grand slam. Ang hirap kunin,” says Pingris, who has been assigned with the task of manning Express import Wesley Witherspoon.
(Well, for me, especially for me, that’s my dream – to win a grand slam. It’s hard to accomplish)
However, Pingris can only do so much. Outside of trying to stop the offensive machine that is Franz Pumaren’s import, the six-foot-six forward also has to do his part on offense, not to mention having to help his squad break through the suffocating full-court press defense of the Express by playing as a situational ball-carrier from time to time.
So far, the results haven’t been great – in his last two games, Pingris is averaging just 6.5 PPG and 5.5 RPG. Furthermore, Witherspoon knocked down eight threes in Game 4, providing the firepower to help Air21 – which converted a franchise-record 15 threes – force a do-or-die joust, while invoking some trash talking with a number of SMC players and supporters.
Nevertheless, Coach Cone needs Pingris now more than ever, as the Express loom as a threat to SMC’s potential record-breaking season. And despite Marc’s recent struggles, make no mistake about it: the 16-time champion head coach doesn’t have plans of calling up anyone else to man Witherspoon.
“We have a real good sense of what Ping has to give. But no matter what, he’s our best matchup to Witherspoon. He’s the only guy who has the size and quickness to play him,” argues the Mixers head coach.
He continued: “I can’t imagine putting someone else on him. I think he’ll do a better job next time.”
Moreover, Pingris will need to step up due to James Mays’ current troubles. According to Cone, the 28-year-old import has recently gone through some tough times with regards to some personal matters, though he also said that he expects his six-foot-nine big man to be ready for the rubber match on Wednesday.
“Nothing particular. He was tired,” Cone added moments after Game 4, when inquired on why Mays was benched in the fourth quarter of the loss. “It’s more internal than anything else. It’s in the family, and we’ll keep it in the family. But he’ll be ready to come out.”
And without a doubt, the same can be said for Pingris, who will do whatever it takes, injury or not, to ensure the Mixers make it to the next level of the Commissioner’s Cup: three games away from putting a stamp on history.
“Ibibigay ko hindi lang 100%, pero 200%, para makuha yun (a third straight title). That’s my dream talaga,” says the passionate San Mig Coffee Mixer.
(I’m going to give not just 100 percent, but 200%, just so that I can get a third straight title. That’s really my dream)
But how about Air21’s three-point shooting capabilities? How much does that put some doubt in Pingris’ mind?
“Tingnan nalang natin kung ganun parin yung laro nila,” states Sakuragi.
(Let’s just see if they continue to perform at a high level)
Game 5. Wednesday. 8:00PM. - Rappler.com