Ginebra stays unbeaten under Cariaso with win over Air21
MANILA, Philippines - Still perfect.
New coach Jeff Cariaso and his Barangay Ginebra San Miguel have remained immaculate so far 3 games into the 2014 PLDT Home Telpad PBA Governors' Cup.
Thanks to a collective effort and proper timing of their momentum, the Gin Kings sent the once unbeaten Air21 Express to their first loss of the conference, 2-1, after an 84-76 victory on Tuesday, May 27.
Struggling during the first 24 minutes of the game - scoring only 16 and 18 points, respectively, for each of the first and second quarters - Ginebra made the defensive adjustments in the third to turn a 34-37 halftime deficit to a 58-53 edge entering the fourth.
Jayjay Helterbrand, who clocked in all of his 9 points from 3 triples, was key to keeping Ginebra afloat during the rougher stretches.
In the second, the veteran guard knocked his first trey to keep Air21 from pulling away, 23-27. He later drilled another one with 5:10 remaining to push the crowd darlings to within 28-29.
His third and most crucial long range basket came with 3:35 remaining in the third as Ginebra raced to flatten the Express' momentum. Helterbrand's 9th point was the most crucial of all as it shoved Ginebra ahead, 50-48.
More importantly, that three-pointer injected more fuel into Ginebra's budding momentum as Mac Baracael, who has been benefitting greatly from Cariaso's triangle, connected on a shot from beyond the arc a couple of plays later to make it a 54-48 Ginebra advantage with 3:17 before the final frame. Baracael finished with 8 points.
The Gin Kings carried that momentum to the fourth as import Zaccheus Mason (22 points, 9 rebounds) nailed another triple to put his team up 65-56.
Though Air21 would not give up their undefeated slate that easily.
They managed to cut the lead down to 79-75 on a completed Asi Taulava (9 points and 12 rebounds) three-point play.
However, Air21 shot themselves on the foot down the stretch. They missed major freebies that could have changed the outcome of the game.
Express import Dominique Sutton (22 points, 19 rebounds), for one, missed all of his 4 charities with under 47 seconds left. Even Taulava wasn't spared from the Express' free throw shooting woes as he split his charities with 1:17 remaining, which could have made it just a 4-point affair.
In all, the Express were a very miserable 6-of-22 from the stripe. While Ginebra went 18-of-25 as they hung on for the hard-earned victory.
Cariaso was not bothered by his team's lackluster performance to start this game. In fact, he was quite happy to see his team battle through challenges in-game and still emerge with the W.
"It's nice to be able to grind out a win. To struggle throughout the whole game - to go up and then they'll catch up, where it wasn't easy throughout the game. And then somehow, some way in the fourth quarter you find a way to win," Cariaso explained.
"I think those are the ones that teach you the best lessons."
In this game, the Express proved to be the better rebounders, 52-46. But Ginebra made up for that by moving the ball better and registered 18 assists against only 13 by Air21.
Despite their lesser performance in some aspects of the game, Cariaso found going up against Air21 a welcome lesson.
"Games like tonight against Air21 are games where you grow and get better. So even if we grew and got better by half an inch tonight, then we're happy with that."
He added: "Going into this game I expressed to them how hard it was gonna be because we're playing a very confident, a very energetic, a very hungry team."
After overcoming this test, Ginebra will be going up against a team who employs practically the same system. Cariaso will be facing his former team and former mentor Tim Cone in a Manila Clasico battle on Sunday, June 1.
"That's gonna be exciting. I can only expect it to be exciting," Cariaso said. "We're going up against a champion team. Our hands are gonna be full in all aspects. The game against San Mig Coffee is gonna be a real fight for us."
Ginebra 84 - Mason 22, Slaughter 12, Aguilar 10, Helterbrand 9, Baracael 8, Tenorio 8, Caguioa 6, Reyes 4, Ellis 3, Monfort 2, Ababou 0.
Air21 76 - Sutton 22, Cardona 14, Yeo 11, Taulava 9, Borboran 7, Ramos 5, Burtscher 3, Atkins 3, Camson 2, Villanueva 0.
Quarter scores: 16-17, 34-37, 58-53, 84-76.