By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter
WITH the manner with which it was achieved, the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Kings cannot help but take special pride in their latest Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) title conquest and savor the uniqueness of it all.
On Wednesday, the Kings completed their assault on the Philippine Cup title after beating the TNT Tropang Giga, 82-78, in Game Five of their best-of-seven finals to take the series, four games to one.
It was a culmination of what was an interesting journey by Barangay Ginebra done in an extraordinary setup — a “bubble” — amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“The experience here is so different, a little surreal,” said Kings coach Tim Cone following their Game Five victory in a virtual press conference.
The latest title of Barangay Ginebra is its 13th in league history but first Philippine Cup jewel in 13 years. It was the 23rd PBA crown for Mr. Cone and his fifth with the Kings.
The PBA restarted its pandemic-hit Season 45 in October in the hopes of squeezing at least one conference and help in jump-starting the return of sports in the country.
It was not an easy ride for the PBA and the participants as they had to grapple with uncertainty at the start, including having suspected coronavirus cases, and continuously being on guard moving forward.
But through it all, the Kings forged ahead with their thrust. Never mind if along the way they, too, had questions if they could pull it off and come out on top.
“I remember coming into the bubble saying to myself, ‘Can we even make the playoffs?’ I mean, at that time, we did not have Greg [Slaughter] and we didn’t have LA [Tenorio] and Japeth [Aguilar],” said Mr. Cone, referring to Mr. Slaughter who took a sabbatical from basketball after last season and Messrs. Tenorio and Aguilar who were the last to join the team in the bubble in Pampanga because they were nursing varying ailments.
“But credit to our players. They just kept on working, working and working, and found a way to win it. I’m proud of them. [Also] There was so much out-of-the-box thinking that had to go into being successful here. I think you really had to think out of the box,” Mr. Cone said.
Adding, “When we get back to Manila and we look back on this one, I think we’ll just be amazed at how it all evolved and us ending up winning the championship.”
In clinching the title, the Kings had to deal with another gallant stand from a shorthanded TNT crew, which played sans key cogs Jayson Castro and Ray Parks Jr. because of injuries.
Barangay Ginebra trailed the Tropang Giga, 73-68, with less than six minutes left to play before the former sprinted to the finish and claimed the victory.
Mr. Aguilar had a career-high-tying 32 points to lead the Kings. He also had online rebounds and three steals.
Stanley Pringle finished with 13 points and six dimes while LA Tenorio had 10 points and six assists.
Mr. Tenorio, meanwhile, was adjudged finals most valuable player after averaging 13.6 points, 6.2 assists, 2.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals in winning his first All-Filipino title.
“It’s just so unique. Hopefully, there’s only gonna be one bubble championship. And if there’s only one bubble championship, we got it. And that’s so cool,” Mr. Cone said.