MANILA, Philippines – Tim Cone can now breathe a sigh of relief.
Anxiety turned to elation for Cone as he and Barangay Ginebra drew first blood against Bay Area in their best-of-seven finals with a 96-81 win on Sunday, December 25 – twenty years since a heartbreaking Christmas game loss.
Cone still remembers being dejected when he and Alaska lost to Coca-Cola on Christmas day in the clincher for the 2002 All-Filipino Cup championship.
The Aces lost to the Tigers, 3-1.
“It was pretty devastating, I have to admit. I’m already depressed just thinking about it,” said Cone about the loss, which marked the first time the league staged a finals game on Christmas.
“Playing on Christmas Day is a little overwhelming, honestly. Playing in the finals is a little overwhelming. You add the two together, it makes for a lot of anxiety coming into a game like this and playing it.”
The Gin Kings, though, refused to let their beloved coach experience another Christmas disaster as they overhauled an eight-point deficit in the first half to deal the mighty Dragons just their second loss over the last 10 games.
LA Tenorio particularly rose to the occasion and fired a conference-high 22 points, while import Justin Brownlee once again assumed his role as the closer, chalking up a team-high 28 points to go with 13 rebounds and 6 assists.
Reigning MVP Scottie Thompson and Christian Standhardinger also delivered for Ginebra, which has won 13 of its last 15 games.
“Obviously, we’re motivated to play and it makes coaching a little easier when your guys are ready to eat wood. They are. They’re pumped up. They’re ready to play,” said Cone.
Cone added his wards wanted to give the 18,252 fans in attendance for Game 1 what they came for, knowing that Gin Kings were playing for the country against a guest squad like Bay Area.
Ginebra is the last team standing on the Dragons’ way of becoming the first foreign squad to win a PBA championship in over four decades.
“It is a special moment, a special time. People are either coming with their families or coming from their thing to come watch us,” said Cone.
“They’re here to watch, not just us, but they’re here to watch the Philippines play. I think that makes it extra special. That was the way we treated it.” – Rappler.com