MANILA, Philippines – Barangay Ginebra may have escaped with a Game 1 win, but it also set the stage for a potential bounce-back performance from Magnolia import Nick Rakocevic.
Gin Kings head coach Tim Cone expects Rakocevic to come out with guns blazing next game after the Serbian reinforcement got thrown out of the Hotshots’ 87-84 loss in the semifinal opener on Wednesday, December 14.
Pestered by Christian Standhardinger, Rakocevic hit the showers early with six minutes remaining in the third quarter for tripping the Filipino-German forward, an act that earned him a flagrant foul penalty 1.
A technical foul for second motion Rakocevic incurred in the second period also came after a collision with Standhardinger.
“[Y]ou’ve seen it through the years. The imports, they can get really explosive and that gets them in trouble and it gets their team in trouble,” said Cone. “But he’ll learn.”
“He’s really a great player. He’s really a smart player and he’ll figure it out. He’s going to come out, I think, extra, extra motivated [for] Game 2 and that’s something we’re going to have to understand and try to meet that challenge.”
Rakocevic has been a steady presence for Magnolia, averaging 23.1 points, a league-leading 17.4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.9 steals, and 1.4 blocks in 14 games.
Even in just 20 minutes before his exit in Game 1, Rakocevic put up a near double-double of 10 points and 8 rebounds to go with 2 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals.
Cone said it will be an arduous task trying to contain Rakocevic at the top of his game, especially with the way he plays.
“He’s tough because you can’t scheme him. You can’t stop what he does because it’s not about scoring, it’s not about hitting three-point shots, or driving to the basket,” said Cone.
“It’s all about just hustle plays – getting to the boards, running the floor, getting tips here and there.”
Cone even compared Rakocevic to his own prized player, reigning league MVP Scottie Thompson.
Thompson currently ranks third among the Gin Kings with 7.2 boards, higher than the likes of forwards Jamie Malonzo and Japeth Aguilar.
“We’ve talked about it all the time, we got to keep him off the boards. But he has that motor that keeps him going to the boards over and over again,” said Cone.
“[You need] tremendous focus and concentration just to stay with him so he doesn’t get those rebounds. And you can’t because there’s so many other things going on that you have to worry about.”
“He’s really special. He’s got some special skills in terms of that. That’s on us to try and stop it.”
Game 2 is on Friday, December 16, at the PhilSports Arena. – Rappler.com