BARANGAY Ginebra and TNT, two of the most dominant squads in the 2022-2023 PBA Governors' Cup, begin their highly anticipated Finals date when they collide in Game One of their best-of-seven title series on Easter Sunday, April 9, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
TNT reached the Finals after topping the eliminations with its near flawless 10-1 record, smothering eighth seed Phoenix in the quarterfinals before hammering sister team Meralco, 3-1, in their semifinal series duel.
On the other hand, Ginebra entered the playoffs as the third seed after finishing the eliminations with an 8-3 record. And despite playing without injured big man Japeth Aguilar and guard LA Tenorio, who is battling with stage 3 colon cancer, Ginebra showed no signs of slowing down, blasting NLEX in the quarterfinals before blanking San Miguel Beer, 3-0, in the semis to reach the Finals.
With only four wins needed to win the season-ending conference crown, only one team will emerge as the victor, a scenario that coaches Tim Cone and Jojo Lastimosa will try to accomplish.
“I'm just really happy to be back [coaching in the Finals],” said Cone, heading to their 6 p.m. collision at the Big Dome, which is expected to attract a huge crowd. “There's always gonna be talk that we're supposed to be the favorites. But I was telling somebody that it's not gonna change our approach whether we're the favorites or the underdogs.”
The American coach, the all-time winningest mentor in league history, recognized the fact that Ginebra will be up against a formidable TNT side that lost just twice this conference.
The Tropang Giga was already doing great guns after toting a 5-1 record midway in the elims when the team decided to bring in NBA veteran Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in lieu of original choice Jalen Hudson.
The import switch showed the coaching staff did their homework as the 28-year-old American has churned out do-it-all numbers of 30.4 points, 12.4 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 2.2 steals through 10 games. Saved for TNT's 114-121 overtime loss to Meralco in Game Three of its semis series, Lastimosa's charges have been nothing but superb.
And Cone can't help but agree.
“We watched TNT and studied them. They are a great shooting team. They get to the paint, and they got an import who has been in the NBA for years, and he's not only [played] in [the] NBA, but a top player in the NBA,” stressed the 65-year-old Cone, who has guided Ginebra to seven league titles since coming on board in 2015.
“They're gonna be formidable, so we're just gonna go out and see, try to get them uncomfortable.”
For Lastimosa, facing Ginebra always goes through resident import Justin Brownlee, the do-it-all reinforcement, who has yet to lose in a Finals series after helping the league's most popular squad to four PBA Governors' Cup titles since 2016.
“I'm just hoping we can sustain our fine play from the eliminations to the semis, but we understand we are going up against the defending champions,” shared Lastimosa.
“We know Justin has not lost this conference [in the Finals], so it's gonna be hard to do. This is a big challenge for us, and we need everybody to play hard to beat Ginebra.”
Backstopping the 34-year-old Brownlee are an array of experienced veterans led by reigning league Most Valuable Player Scottie Thompson, and Best Player of the Conference stats leader Christian Standhardinger, who has played extremely well since Aguilar went down with a knee injury.
Young wingman Jamie Malonzo and rookie Jeremiah Gray have also been delivering consistently under Cone, while guards Nards Pinto and veteran Stanley Pringle are expected to play big roles, too, in the Finals in absence of Tenorio.
As for TNT, the team has a stacked up roster that includes 2021 Philippine Cup Finals MVP Mikey Williams, sweet-shooting Roger Pogoy, Calvin Oftana, veteran guard Jayson Castro and big man Poy Erram, who has been reactivated since recovering from a surgery early this year.
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