MANILA, Philippines—The cliche goes that the two teams facing off in a lengthy series have put out everything they can throw, which seems to be the case in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup title series between Barangay Ginebra and Bay Area that will be contested in a deciding Game 7 on Sunday.
But coaches Tim Cone of Ginebra and Brian Goorjian may have something left on their sleeves in the title decider at Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan, leaving their players to decide if those plans can be executed to the letter.
Plenty of questions are in the minds of those who have been following one of the most hotly-contested championship chases in a long while.
WHICH CORE WILL DELIVER IN THE BIG GAME?
With Justin Brownlee and Myles Powell expected to cancel each other out with their ability to draw big numbers, the do-or-die match will rest on the locals who had their share of big performances and struggles in the six games played in a span of three weeks.
Ginebra’s Scottie Thompson, Christian Standhardinger and recently Japeth Aguilar have been the most consistent players on the Gin Kings. Stanley Pringle has had his moments, so’s LA Tenorio before being bothered by a groin injury while Jamie Malonzo can still make an impact after a rollercoaster Finals debut.
Bay Area has won three games behind Hayden Blankley’s all-around play, Kobey Lam’s outside shooting and Glen Yang’s steady playmaking, though the three also dealt with difficulties against Ginebra’s defense. Zhu Songwei can at times be a lethal piece for Bay Area with his length and versatility but is also suspect for making careless decisions while 7-foot-5 Liu Chuanxing and Duncan Reid produced solid efforts on both ends, especially after Andrew Nicholson got hurt.
WILL THERE BE A GAMBIT ON MYLES POWELL?
Powell’s 29 points, even against Scottie Thompson and Nards Pinto who are among Cone’s primary wing defenders, is a testament to how the 6-foot-2 guard can explode regardless of the situation.
Some fans questioned the decision to keep Pinto in the fourth quarter with his offense slumping to a 1-of-9 clip. Thompson was also tasked for several parts of the game defending Powell.
Cone was satisfied with how his team defended Powell, but he may look at other ways to at least make Powell work for his shots. There are suggestions from Ginebra supporters to let either Malonzo or Aljon Mariano take the responsibilities, or maybe give Jonathan Gray, who has been used sparingly, a try.
At the end of the day, it will be up to Cone and his coaching staff to decide if they’ll live or die with whatever they want to call.
IS JAPETH AGUILAR POISED TO PLAY HIS BEST GAME?
Aguilar’s gastro problems have contributed to his dip in production due to the playoffs, but he has so slowly become a key figure for the Gin Kings as the Finals rolled on.
Interestingly, he has produced similar 12-point, six-rebound numbers in each of the previous three games while averaging 3.0 blocks in that stretch.
His improved play has eased the burden on Standhardinger, who through the series has been consistent with his tough defense on the Bay Area frontline while getting his points despite not being a first or second option.
CAN BAY AREA OVERCOME THE PRESSURE?
The Dragons have proved they can perform well despite playing against crowds that are mostly against them. Game 7 will test that belief, this time with at least 50,000 expected to watch in Bocaue.
There were games where the Ginebra faithful were able to force Bay Area into mistakes, but there were other days when the Dragons kept the audience out of the picture, like in Game 4 with Lam firing 30 and Powell delivering timely shots in Game 6.
WHO’S THE MOST IMPORTANT BAY AREA PLAYER OTHER THAN POWELL?
It’s easy to say Blankley for the way he shoots the ball and for his ability to defend as well and Lam for being a knockdown shooter. But Yang has been the most trusted local player of Goorjian since he put everything in order playing the quarterback role.
Yang’s absence in Game 5 was evident to that as Bay Area was forced to distribute the point guard responsibilities. He played 43 minutes in Game 6 and his partnership with Powell has suddenly improved the Dragons’ backcourt depth.
WHO MAY END UP WINNING THE FINALS MVP?
Thompson seems to be the favorite on the Ginebra side, but Standhardinger may have enhanced himself after backing up Brownlee during Ginebra’s rally from 12 down in the third to lead by seven in Game 6.
Lam’s shooting in wins produced by Bay Area has made him a strong candidate, but Blankley has recovered from a horrible shooting display in Game 1 to emerge as a key contributor in the title fight.
CAN BAY AREA LEAVE A LASTING IMPRESSION?
It’s unfortunate that some fans have labeled Bay Area as a teammate that complains too much, which has been the contrary since Blankley and Powell were fined by the PBA Commissioner’s Office for comments against officiating.
Goorjian’s wealth of experience that included steering Australia to a bronze medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics has been evident with how the Dragons have played. He has been harping about not just hoping to win but to also earn the respect of Filipino basketball fans.
But the Dragons, who have brought a different flavor the PBA has not experienced in a while, appeared to have done so, regardless if it ends up with a title or a runner-up trophy to bring back to Hong Kong.
WHAT WILL BE THE IMPLICATIONS ONCE GAME 7 CONCLUDES?
The hype surrounding the final game of the midseason conference has set things up for a fitting climax to a series that is unpredictable. It can turn out to be one of the most memorable endings to a series, especially for Ginebra fans who hope to get the satisfaction of winning a championship at the expense of a foreign team and further solidify the legacies of those who’ll try to pull it off.
For Bay Area, a championship would be the ultimate reward after being in the Philippines for five months, having to deal with the postponement of the East Asia Super League and the multiple import swaps involving Powell and Nicholson.
We would like to believe that it will be a Game 7 to remember, but whoever comes out victorious will have a memory that will last a lifetime.
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