MANILA, Philippines – Barangay Ginebra showcased its championship pedigree to nose out Meralco and draw first blood in the 2019-20 PBA Governors' Cup finals at the Araneta Coliseum on Tuesday, January 7.
Import Justin Brownlee hit big-time free throws in the crucial stretch, while Japeth Aguilar came up with a key defensive stop as the Gin Kings hacked out a pulsating 91-87 win before a sizeable crowd of 10,708 fans.
Brownlee finished with 38 points and 16 rebounds, including 4 foul shots in the last 35 seconds that gave his side enough cushion to fend off the Bolts.
Down 87-89, Meralco had a chance to tie the game with a drive from import Allen Durham but he was denied by Aguilar with 11 ticks left, setting up the Brownlee free throws that sealed the win for Ginebra.
Chris Newsome, who waxed hot for 9 of his 24 points in the final quarter, attempted a triple to bring the Bolts within a whisker but missed as time expired.
Gin Kings coach Tim Cone lauded his wards for pulling off the victory despite the stifling defense they endured.
"[I]t was a struggle all the way through – struggle keeping our emotions in check because they really frustrate you defensively," said Cone with Ginebra being limited to 16 assists – a far cry from their average of more than 25 a game.
"Getting Game 1, grinding it out was a real testament to our guys – still staying with it despite not playing in the comfortable way they want to play."
Brownlee already had 16 points at halftime before catching fire for 18 third-quarter points as the Gin Kings erased a deficit as large as 10 points to enter the payoff period down by only 3 points, 68-71.
Aguilar – who put up 16 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 blocks – picked up where Brownlee left off, knocking down back-to-back buckets to give Ginebra a 74-73 lead with 10 minutes remaining.
It was a nip-and-tuck battle from there with both teams exchanging the upper hand until Brownlee sank two charity shots for an 88-87 advantage – a lead that stood for the Gin Kings until the end.
LA Tenorio added 14 points, 6 coming in the last frame, while Stanley Pringle chipped in 10 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists in the win.
Durham delivered a triple-double of 25 points, 18 rebounds, and 10 assists, but he was limited to just 3 points in the final quarter as Meralco fell short in taking the series-opener of the best-of-seven affair.
Raymond Almazan had 20 points and 13 rebounds in the loss.
Game 2 will be staged at the Quezon Convention Center in Lucena City on Friday, January 10.
Barangay Ginebra 91 - Brownlee 38, Aguilar 16, Tenorio 14, Pringle 10, Slaughter 8, Thompson 2, Chan 2.
Meralco 87 - Durham 25, Newsome 24, Almazan 20, Amer 9, Caram 4, Quinto 3, Hodge 0, Faundo 0, Pinto 0.
Quarters: 19-19, 41-37, 71-68, 91-87.
Delfin Dioquino dreamt of being a PBA player, but he did not have the skills to make it. So he pursued the next best thing to being an athlete – to write about them. He took up journalism at the University of Santo Tomas and joined Rappler as soon as he graduated in 2017.