MANILA, Philippines – Japeth Aguilar had been quiet all playoffs long in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup.
But with Barangay Ginebra on the cusp of the finals, Aguilar turned in his finest performance of the tournament and played a key role in a 99-84 romp of Magnolia in Game 4 of their best-of-five semifinals on Wednesday, December 21.
The high-flying forward finished with a conference-high 19 points on top of 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals as the Gin Kings advanced to the championship round for the fourth time in six conferences.
His big game came after five straight matches of being held to single digits in scoring – a stretch that Aguilar took hard.
“Japeth is incredibly hard on himself. He really is hard on himself and that’s one of the things we battle with him all the time – to keep his spirits up, to keep him encouraged,” said Ginebra coach Tim Cone.
“He has a tendency to really get down on himself. He’s a guy who really cares.”
Aguilar has seen a major drop in his production following his stellar campaign in the Philippine Cup earlier this season.
In the all-Filipino conference, the Gilas Pilipinas mainstay averaged 17.1 points, 8 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks in 14 games.
Those numbers, however, have dwindled as Aguilar norms just 9.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks in 18 games this conference.
“He cares about playing well, he cares about playing well for his teammates, and every time he does something wrong, he feels like he’s letting his teammates down,” Cone said.
“You love that trait, but it also can be distracting for him and can affect his emotions throughout the game.”
Aguilar, though, seemed to have overcome his struggles in a game where his frontcourt partner Christian Standhardinger got thrown out.
Coming off the bench for just the second time this conference, Aguilar stepped up for Standhardinger, scoring 8 points in their third-quarter breakaway as the Gin Kings enjoyed a lead as big as 24 points.
“We started Christian in Game 3 and let [Japeth] come off the bench. I don’t know exactly what happened there, but I’m guessing that maybe, that took some of the pressure off him, and he was able to play a little more freely coming off the bench with lower expectations,” said Cone.
“Christian and Japeth have been splitting a lot of time, so neither of them are used to playing like 40 minutes right now. They’re used to playing 25, 26. He had to extend his minutes and he powered through that. So I’m so proud of him.”
Much is expected from Aguilar as Ginebra takes on the towering foreign team Bay Area in the best-of-seven finals starting on Christmas Day at the Mall of Asia Arena. – Rappler.com