Ginebra-TNT duel begins


GINEBRA San Miguel clashes with TNT in Game 1 of the Philippine Basketball Association Governors’ Cup Finals on Easter Sunday with the reigning champion Gin Kings going after their fifth title in the conference that the Tropang Giga have never won.

And there’s Justin Brownlee, who’s aiming for his seventh crown in seven Finals appearances as import of Ginebra, which also eyes its 16th PBA championship.

On the other end, TNT wanted this Governors’ Cup just too badly to add to its eighth league crowns—and so as Tropang Giga import Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a certified National Basketball Association player who has yet to win a professional league title.

Game 1 is set at 6 p.m. at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

The Gin Kings only took Good Friday off and were unrelenting in practice the entire Lent at the San Miguel Foods Sports Complex along C5.

“We only broke practice on Good Friday,” said Cone, adding that everyone is in high morale heading into the best-of-seven championship.

Season Most Valuable Player Scottie Thompson has been in his elements with averages of 13.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 6.3 assists in 15 games in the conference, along with big man Christian Standhardinger—a shoo in for the Best Player award— who churned out 23.5 points, 10.4 rebounds and 5.8 assists in 13 games.

There’s also high-flyer Jamie Malonzo (17.1 points and 7.1 rebounds in 15 games) who’ll be up front in Ginebra’s campaign.

“They are going to be formidable—and we know that,” Cone said. “We will just go out there and make them uncomfortable.”

Japeth Aguilar, Cone said, could also be playing from a knee injury although he said his status is day to day.

Brownlee? He’s 6 of 6 in terms of helping Ginebra win a championship in an import-laced conference—Governors’ Cup in 2016, 2017, 2019 and 2021 and Commissioner’s Cup in 2018 and 2022.

Cone said that with Brownlee’s credentials, he’ll go down as one of the league’s best imports.

“I don’t think this one will make a difference in JB’s legacy whether he wins this one or not,” Cone said. “Even he stays at six [titles], he is going to be the greatest [import] to play in the PBA. That’s already an amazing feat.”

“Getting into the finals is as enjoyable thing as the first one in 2016,” said Brownlee, who went 27.3 points, 10.5 rebounds and 6.9 assists in 15 games. “I’m just lucky and very blessed just trying to take advantage of every opportunity.”

Jojo Lastimosa—Cone’s top player in Alaska in the 1990s and is in his first Finals as a head coach in the PBA—wanted a win in Game 1 to get his Tropang Giga going.

“Winning Game 1 means we have a head start and that’s always good, but that doesn’t mean much if we lose our next game,” Lastimosa said. “If we lose our first game and win Game 2, it’s just the same. The key is to string up a couple of games.”

Roger Pogoy is one of TNT’s main offensive weapon with averages of 19.1 points in 15 games along with Mikey Williams on a 17.6-point norm. Calvin Oftana has also been responding with 13.6 points and 7.9 rebounds in 14 games.

Lastimosa said Rondae Hollis-Jefferson would be TNT’s “great equalizer” in the series.

“Rondae [Hollis-Jefferson] is our big equalizer and we like his enthusiasm, energy and youth,” he said. “He has a mission of winning his first ever professional title—and that’s something we can answer for Brownlee’s magic.”

“I’m just trying to bring the title back to TNT and that’s the goal since I came here,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “That’s the focus and as long as we do everything, the Xs and Os, everything will work out fine.”

Hollis-Jefferson went 30.4 points, 10.4 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 2.2 steals in 10 games since replacing import Jalen Hudson.

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