We’re down to the last two teams. The Governors’ Cup finals matchup we all wanted to see and waited a year to happen again is finally here. After a dramatic finish to last season’s finals, the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel and the Meralco Bolts will go toe-to-toe one more time in the championship.
A year ago, Ginebra and Meralco met in the finals of the season-ending conference with each looking to end a title drought. The Kings, at the time, hadn’t won a championship since 2008, while the Bolts were seeking their first title since it entered the league. Both squads had to hurdle their respective sister teams in the semis (Ginebra beat SMB 3-2 and Meralco beat TNT 3-1) to get to the finals.
The Bolts and Kings split the first four games of the seven-game series before Ginebra took Game 5 to gain the upperhand. As everyone expected, the following match was intense as it could get with the game boiling down to one last play. The score was tied at 88-all, 5.5 seconds remaining, Ginebra with possession.
Brownlee received the inbound pass from Sol Mercado on the left side of the court. With Best Import awardee Allen Durham draped all over him, he made a move to the right and dribbled to the center of the floor before squaring up for a three-pointer a few feet beyond the arc. Brownlee’s triple gave Ginebra the win at the buzzer, ending the franchise’s eight-year title drought. Truly one of the most memorable moments in PBA finals history.
The battle of the imports
Both Ginebra and Meralco are fielding imports who they are already familiar with.
For Ginebra, it’s Justin Brownlee. Interestingly, Brownlee wasn’t the initial import Ginebra paraded in the 2016 Governors’ Cup – it was Paul Harris. But Harris suffered an injury and the Kings were forced to find a replacement. Luckily for them, Brownlee fit coach Tim Cone’s system and was able to help them claim the crown last season.
Brownlee, who has gained popularity among the Ginebra faithful since hitting that championship-clinching triple, returned to the PBA as Ginebra’s import for the 2017 Commissioner’s Cup and the ongoing Governors’ Cup. Brownlee remains one of the most reliable imports to have played for Barangay Ginebra in recent memory.
Allen Durham, meanwhile, had a stint with Barako Bull in 2014 before he suited up for the Meralco Bolts last season. Durham quickly made an impact in his PBA return, winning the Best Import award and leading the Bolts to their first-ever finals appearance.
Meralco tapped the services of Durham again in this year’s Governors’ Cup in the hopes of making it back to the finals to redeem themselves from the heartbreaking loss to Ginebra. As luck would have it, these two imports will go at it again on the PBA’s biggest stage.
The winner of this conference’s Best Import plum has yet to be announced but Durham has emerged as the favorite to win the award for the second year in a row.
Cone vs. Black (again)
Another battle happening within this war is that of the men manning the sidelines. The two coaches leading their respective teams happen to be two of the most respected basketball minds in the league.
Ginebra has the legendary Tim Cone who is the winningest coach in the history of the PBA. Cone has now made 32 finals appearances and has won 18 championships – including two Grand Slams (Alaska and San Mig Coffee).
Meralco, meanwhile, has Norman Black at the helm. Black, a former import in the league, has steered his team to the finals 18 times now and has won a total of 11 titles, including one Grand Slam with the San Miguel franchise.
What has changed since last year?
Both teams made several tweaks to their rosters since they last met in the finals. For Ginebra, the most glaring difference was the return of Greg Slaughter to the lineup. Slaughter was out for a portion of last season’s Governors’ Cup due to an injury and missed the entirety of the finals against Meralco. But this year, Gregzilla is back and has been a key piece in Ginebra’s deep run in the playoffs.
Last season, Jimmy Alapag was still playing for the Bolts. But after that painful loss to Ginebra, Alapag retired for a second time and became an assistant coach for Meralco. Under his wing, young talent Baser Amer blossomed and has become one of the premier guards in the league. Apart from benefiting from Amer’s development, the Bolts added veteran savvy when they acquired Ranidel de Ocampo from TNT via trade.
RDO may be at the twilight of his career but his leadership and versatility on the floor has certainly done wonders for the Bolts so far. De Ocampo was instrumental in their semis series versus Star and is expected to give Meralco added firepower in their finals showdown with Ginebra.
In last season’s Governors’ Cup semifinals, Jared Dillinger suffered a hamstring injury that forced him to miss the finals against Ginebra. He has been quite vocal on Twitter about wanting another shot at the Kings and now he’s gotten his wish. A healthy Dillinger has been providing the Bolts with more offensive firepower from the outside this conference, something they could have used last year.
The road to the rematch
With returning imports, both Ginebra and Meralco expectedly were formidable teams in the 2017 Governors’ Cup.
The Bolts ended the elimination round at the top of the standings with a 9-2 win-loss card, while the Kings finished with an 8-3 record as both squads entered the playoffs holding a twice-to-beat edge over their opponents.
In the quarterfinals, Meralco had to play two games to eliminate the Blackwater Elite, who almost pulled an upset. Ginebra, on the other hand, destroyed the Grand Slam-seeking San Miguel Beermen to advance to the next round.
The Bolts faced Star in the semis but completely took control of the series and swept the Hotshots to make a return trip to the finals. The Kings, meanwhile, boosted their chance of defending their title after they took care of business against TNT in four games.
The 2017 PBA Governors’ Cup finals series begins on Friday in Lucena City.
Will the Kings be able to defend their crown and repeat? Or will the Bolts redeem themselves and finally win their first championship in the PBA?
Ginebra or Meralco, your pick.