5 key factors which could decide the Ginebra vs GlobalPort showdown

MARK THE SPARK. Caguioa will aim to bring his team to the semis. File photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

MARK THE SPARK. Caguioa will aim to bring his team to the semis.

File photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Barangay Ginebra San Miguel and the GlobalPort Batang Pier will face off on Sunday, December 27 at 5 pm, in a sudden death match during the second phase of the PBA quarterfinals with a ticket to meet the Alaska Aces in the semis on the line.

While Ginebra is still clearly the most popular team in the PBA, what’s become apparent is that GlobalPort, led by the thrilling duo of Terrence Romeo and Stanley Pringle, has become the most exciting team in the league.

Mix even only those two factors together, and you have a match that’s expected to be a can’t-miss affair. Add the fact that Ginebra has its own formidable roster led by a brilliant head coach, or that the Batang Pier have the confidence of a battle-tested team despite its young roster, and you have possibly another classic showdown on the horizon.

Here are 5 things to know ahead of the game:

1. Ginebra needs to hit shots

By now you already know of the Barangay Christmas Day miracle. Someway, somehow, Cone’s team erased an 18-point fourth quarter lead, an 8-point lead with under 50 seconds to go, and won over Star thanks to an LA Tenorio 3-pointer at the buzzer in overtime. 

Incredible comeback? Absolutely. 

Lucky? Yes.

Ginebra isn’t a good 3-point shooting team, and Star took advantage of that when they established their double-digit advantage. 

During the elimination round, Barangay hit only an average of 3.9 triples a contest on 25.1% shooting. The Hotshots’ coaching staff surely knew this and capitalized on it by playing zone defense against the Gin Kings, rendering twin towers Greg Slaughter and Japeth Aguilar irrelevant for stretches during the game.

Now, Ginebra came back because Sol Mercado - not really known for his outside shooting - hit a couple of improbable 3-balls in the fourth quarter and OT that, generally, you’ll just have to live with. Aguilar also made one crucial triple and Tenorio hit 3 of his own (including the most important one), but Star made the smart decision playing the averages by loading up the paint, and it’s likely the Batang Pier will do the same.

Once they do, it will be integral for guys like Tenorio, Mercado, rookie Earl Scottie Thompson, Chris Ellis, Mark Caguioa, and the rest of the perimeter players to do damage from outside to free up breathing room for Slaughter/Aguilar. If they fire clanks, Ginebra’s offense will clutter and it will find itself facing another deficit - this time against a much better offensive juggernaut.

2. GlobalPort goes as Pringle and Romeo go

The Batang Pier have done a good job surrounding their two cornerstones with a better supporting cast, but this team still starts and ends with Romeo and Pringle.

During their victory over Barako Bull, the duo combined for more than half of their team’s output. Everyone knows the ball will be in their hands nearly every possession. You think that makes it easy to come up with a defensive gameplan against them. But even if you know the offense runs through them, here’s the question:

What are you going to do about it?

The two are too talented, and you certainly have to put their names in the discussion for the 5 best players in the PBA today. Even if you know they will make the decisions on the floor, it’s not like you have the ability to stop them from getting to the rim or getting their shots up. The best hope is to pray they have off shooting nights.

Romeo is capable of that. Remember: he went 5-of-22 from the field against Mahindra just a few weeks back and was actually 3-of-21 before hitting those two clutch shots late, so Ginebra is going to have to make sure to bother him and make him take as many tough jumpers as possible.

But if both he and Pringle have it going, it’s a wrap.

3. Ginebra has to get Slaughter going early

The former Ateneo big man finished with 12 points and 4 rebounds against Star, which isn’t horrible, but if you compare it to his 23.5 points and 15.1 rebounds a game averages during the elims, it’s uninspiring. 

Credit is due to Star’s big men, especially Rafi Reavis, who made every shot tough for Slaughter, as well as the zone defense scheme the Hotshots implemented to neutralize the big man. But Slaughter is too dangerous of a weapon to become an afterthought, regardless of the opponents’ defense, so Cone and his staff will have to figure out a way to get him the ball more, even when GlobalPort clogs the paint.

The best way is to force-feed the big early in the game, especially since GlobalPort doesn’t offer the same rim deterrence that Star has. Maybe some high-low post action between Greg and Japeth can help too. Like I mentioned, it will be important for Ginebra to hit outside shots so their offense won’t be one-sided, but Slaughter’s inside scoring is still the team’s bread-and-butter.

More importantly: the more Slaughter scores in the paint, the slower the pace of the game becomes, which turns the momentum to Ginebra’s favor. Never Say Die or not, the Gin Kings simply cannot get into a track meet with the more athletic and quicker Batang Pier. By taking control of the tempo early, Ginebra may just dictate how the rest of the game goes.

4. GlobalPort needs to force turnovers and convert off them

Ginebra ranked fourth in the league in terms of most turnovers during the eliminations with 18.0 a game, and against Star, they gave the ball away 21 times. Fortunately for them, the Hotshots turned those turnovers into only 12 points.

I already talked about how a quicker tempo favors Romeo and company, so whenever Ginebra is careless with the ball, GlobalPort needs to pounce on every opportunity. Each fastbreak chance also means getting points for Batang Pier players not named Pringle and Romeo, which can go a long way in ensuring a win.

SCORING MACHINE. Ginebra will need to find an answer for Terrence Romeo. File photo by Josh Albelda/ Rappler

SCORING MACHINE. Ginebra will need to find an answer for Terrence Romeo.

File photo by Josh Albelda/ Rappler

5. The passing of the torch

Over the past decade plus, there has been no more exhilarating backcourt combo than Ginebra’s Caguioa and Jay-jay Helterbrand. This season, we may finally have a duo that could turn out to be even better in Pringle and Romeo.

We know Caguioa and Helterbrand, former league MVPs, are close to retirement. We know Pringle and Romeo, health-permitting, are going to rule the PBA for years to come. It seems like having all 4 guys in a playoff game, even if it’s just one, is destiny, in the passing-of-the-torch kind of way. – Rappler.com