The rematch that everyone has been waiting for is finally here. The Barangay Ginebra Kings and Meralco Bolts square off for the second straight year in the PBA Governors’ Cup finals. Will the Kings defend their crown, or will the Bolts finally break through? As always, the Sports5.ph crew of Chuck Araneta, Charlie Cuna, Carlo Pamintuan, Jutt Sulit and Noel Zarate give their analysis.
1. Which key player who wasn’t present in last year’s finals will have the biggest impact on this year’s finals: Greg Slaughter, Jared Dillinger, Ranidel De Ocampo, or Kevin Ferrer?
Chuck: Greg Slaughter. He showed just how much of a matchup nightmare he can be, as he came off the bench and tortured the bigs of TNT. Meralco doesn’t have the bigs to matchup with Gregzilla, but who actually does? They’re going to have to show different bigs at Greg, and their defense is gonna scramble to adjust to his presence on the floor. And the most important thing is to stay out of wire. They can’t afford to put Barangay Ginebra in the penalty early, as Ginebra is elite at attacking the basket.
Charlie: Slaughter. He is seven feet tall with a feathery touch around the basket and out to the perimeter. His presence alone will cause Meralco problems on both ends. He can hit free throws and is a willing and capable passer when doubled or in trouble. Obviously, JD and RDO make Meralco much more potent offensively and give the team much-needed championship experience. They may prove to be the difference makers by the time the Finals are over, but now, I will go with Greg.
Carlo: The champions of the 2016 PBA Governors’ Cup added a player who is one of the favorites to win the Best Player of the Conference in Greg Slaughter. I don’t have to say anything else. Slaughter has no natural matchup from Meralco which means Allen Durham might have to be on him at some point. All the other additions to this budding rivalry will definitely spice things up but I don’t think any of them could match the numbers that Slaughter will be having.
Jutt: I think it’s still going to be Greg Slaughter. Size has been the biggest advantage of Ginebra over every other team. Size is also one thing that you could say Meralco doesn’t have a lot of – especially with the suspension of Kelly Nabong. The presence of Slaughter adds more to the long list of match-up problems that Coach Norman Black will have to deal with in this series.
Noel: A tie between Greg Slaughter and Ranidel de Ocampo. Slaughter has been on a tear and could wind up winning Best Player of the Conference (BPC). He’s a solid fixture in the middle for Tim Cone’s very tall line-up and quite frankly (perhaps with the exception of Allen Durham) no one on the Meralco frontcourt can even come close to matching up with this seven-foot behemoth when he gets the ball in scoring position. I’m tying him with Hodor because of the incredible dimension the 14-year veteran brings to the forefront for the Bolts. De Ocampo is a defender’s nightmare as he spots up, gets by you and passes to those already getting good position under the Ginebra defense (maybe Durham, Cliff Hodge, Reynel Hugnatan, you name it). RDO is a winner and he will infuse his magic touch, unless he is somehow stymied.
2. Which team is stronger this year?
Chuck: Meralco is definitely reloaded with RDO, Mike Tolomia, Garvo Lanete and a vastly improved Baser Amer. But it’s difficult to bet against Ginebra, especially when they’re playing at full strength. Joe Devance is such a huge piece of the team, with his ability to move the ball around. Greg Slaughter has also looked better with each passing game, and is such a game changer when he comes off the bench. They might not have the balance that Meralco has when you consider their bench, but Barangay Ginebra is still coming into this Finals series with a ton of momentum.
Charlie: This is so tough. They’re both better than last year. For Ginebra, Slaughter is active, Scottie Thompson is no longer a rookie, and the other core players are back from last year, including Meralco-killer Justin Brownlee. For the Bolts, JD and RDO are there, Baser Amer is playing inspired ball, and the addition of outside gunners Tolomia and Lanete will surely help. Of course, Allen Durham’s abilities are undeniable. Top to bottom, and because we are duty-bound to choose because of our editor’s question, I’ll say Ginebra is stronger, but maybe by a score of just 10 to 9.75.
Carlo: The return of Slaughter is undoubtedly huge for Ginebra. However, the addition of Ranidel De Ocampo and Garvo Lanete, the availability of Jared Dillinger, and the vast improvement of Baser Amer has allowed them to better than how they were last year.
Jutt: It’s tough to say. Meralco swept Star in the semifinals. But Ginebra also brought down two high caliber teams in San Miguel and TNT. But if I had to choose, I’d go with the Bolts. They did top the elimination round afterall. And while some can argue that the standings were so close, well they did get wins over big teams – including Ginebra.
Noel: Ginebra, but not by much. Slaughter’s entry is hard to offset, and he’s playing mature basketball realizing that he is the biggest player out there. Justin Brownlee had a serious breakthrough in Game 4 of the semis and with LA Tenorio being his usual playoff self, the supporting cast of Ginebra just has to ride the flow. They killed San Miguel in the quarterfinals, leapfrogged TNT in the semis and they are primed to unleash everything they have left against the Bolts starting Friday in Lucena. The Bolts have added two key pieces in de Ocampo and Mike Tolomia, but are still undersized–especially with the indefinite suspension of Kelly Nabong.
3. Barangay Ginebra can win it again because…
Chuck: A lot of their success will depend on Joe Devance’s health. If his hip doesn’t bother him in the Finals, then Ginebra should be the favorites. They’re the defending champs. They have Greg Slaughter. You know the drill.
Charlie: They’ve won it already before, even without Slaughter. They have proven to be solid, from top to bottom, they have intimidating size, have shown the ability to thoroughly outplay teams and also to fight back after being down to recover and win. This team has a confidence about it, a certain degree of arrogance even, especially when things are clicking and they are punishing their opponents. A Tim Cone-coached team can always win due to his plain mastery of the game and ability to adjust. Plus, the crowd will always be in their favor. Also, the opportunity to win back-to-back championships in the Governors’ Cup is a motivating factor. That is their battle cry.
Carlo: They know what it takes to win it. Sometimes, breaking the glass ceiling is the hardest thing to do. Meralco got so close to winning last season but it was taken away from them so they’re left reeling and doubting if they’re good enough to get it. The Kings have no such doubts. They were on the brink of being down 3-1 the last time around and they recovered to win it all. Knowing they can overcome big challenges makes them a dangerous squad.
Jutt: They won last year and now they have more weapons. Like I said, there were so many match up problems for Meralco last year. And the return of Slaughter adds to that. I’m just not sure how the Bolts can limit the effect of Ginebra’s size advantage, especially when Coach Tim Cone deploys that humongous lineup of Greg-Japeth-Brownlee-JDV-LA. That combo has done a lot of damage this conference.
Noel: They are the hybrids of the league and the new standard for the future. Yes, the Beermen won the first two conferences, but I believe it would have been different if Slaughter was in harness at the start of the Commissioner’s Cup with Ginebra parading Brownlee in a conference that had imports skimming the 6’9″ height limit. Ginebra has transformed into a bunch of silent assassins that have fully embraced their respective roles to win multiple championships. I’ll indicate they “NBA-Type” line-up again:
PG Tenorio (5’8″)
SG Brownlee (6’4″)
SF Devance (6’7″)
PF J. Aguilar (6’9″)
C Slaughter (7’0″)
I’d challenge China and Iran with this unit.
4. Meralco can finally win it because…
Chuck: They’re hungry. They had a taste of what it takes to win in the Finals last year, and they don’t want to be mere spectators in the rematch. They also have a lot of motivation, wanting to win for ailing team governor Al Panlilio, and Jared Dillinger’s grandmother. Those motivating factors can go a long way in pushing a team to play at their best. As long as they can control the rebounding battle vs Barangay Ginebra’s giants, they have a shot.
Charlie: Revenge is sweet. Meralco is hungry and looking for redemption. Many of them still feel the stinging loss from a year ago and realize they were so close to forcing a Game 7. They have added new pieces that can help them inside and out and their guard corps is much more impressive now despite the loss of Jimmy Alapag, who is still on their bench anyway to provide motivation and leadership. Coach Norman Black is no slouch, being a many-time champion himself. If the outside shots fall for Meralco, as they have in many of their wins, and they can run often, they can negate the Ginebra size advantage. If not, they will be in trouble.
Carlo: They’re going all-in. They know the Governors’ Cup will remain to be their best chance at winning their first PBA title and that Durham is the best import who can get them there. This is why they’ve traded what could have been a decent pick in the upcoming Rookie Draft to add a veteran like De Ocampo. They’re in win-now mode and they understand the gravity of this opportunity.
Jutt: Their young guns have grown so much over the past year. Baser Amer and Chris Newsome were already good last year. But now they’ve been spectacular. Not to mention, they’ve had solid help in the return of Jared Dillinger and the entry of Ranidel de Ocampo. In essence, Meralco had a lot of new weapons too.
Noel: The Bolts have a chip on their shoulder and don’t feel respected as a contender. That’s why they’ll put all their firepower together and blow Ginebra out of the water in a series that will have psychological implications down the line. Jared Dillinger is playing the best basketball of his career as a Meralco member and Baser Amer has now morfed into a Jimmy Alapag/Ronnie Magsanoc clone. Add to that potent mix the ruggedness of Hodge, the veteran smarts of Hugnatan, the detonations of Garvo Lanete and the RDO factor and, oh, there’s Durham–who has my vote as Best Import anew. If it will come down to which team is out to prove something, then Meralco will have that edge especially after showing tremendous character in climbing out of holes that had them almost left for dead. They are now in complete championship form and if they stay hungry, they may wield that dethronement axe for their first ever title.
Chuck: Ginebra in 7, with the caveat being Joe Devance’s health. I think he’s that important to Barangay Ginebra. If he’s not 100%, the Bolts have a good chance to take this entire thing.
Charlie: This will go six or seven games. I’ll venture to say Meralco if it ends in 6, or Ginebra if it goes to a 7th game. I hope every game is close, hard-fought, and as entertaining as those in last year’s series. I hope the season ends with a bang again. May the best team win!
Carlo: Before the conference even started, I felt that a Meralco-Ginebra series was inevitable. They were on a collision course and, luckily for us, it happened in the finals. I’m not at all comfortable with picking a winner in this one but Ginebra might have just enough to keep Meralco at bay for now. Kings in 7.
Jutt: Meralco in seven. I would sure love for this series to go seven games.
Noel: Ginebra in 7. I give this to the defending champions because they are just that: the defending champions. It will be difficult to snatch that crown away from them and carnage may ensue in that regard. The Slaughter factor is the biggest component. If Ginebra stays healthy, follows Cone and remain steadfast (and not get psyched out), then they should emerge with the trophy when the smoke clears from what should be the best Finals series of the season.