No surprise if this one goes to Game 7

    AERIAL BATTLE: Meralco forward Allein Maliksi tries to score off Ginebra big men Japeth Aguilar and Art dela Cruz in their battle last November.
    AERIAL BATTLE: Meralco forward Allein Maliksi tries to score off Ginebra big men Japeth Aguilar and Art dela Cruz in their battle last November.

    Ginebra and Meralco expect their third PBA Governors Cup title duel to go down the wire. So gaining whatever edge is must.

    Like winning the opening game of the best-of-seven championship series today at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

    “To me, Game 1 is the most important game aside from Game 7. (When you win) Game 1, you get out and you dictate the series,” said Kings coach Tim Cone.

    “After you’ve won Game 1, the other team is already making adjustments and you’re building on what you’ve done,” added Cone. “It’s a lot easier building on what you’ve done and you’ve also built confidence. If you get the second game, the other team is on their heels.”

    Bolts coach Norman Black agreed, saying: “We need to worry about Game 1 first and then Game 2 after that, instead of saying: ‘Hey, we need to win this championship immediately.’ It just doesn’t work like that.”

    The protagonists also expressed their belief that the series will go the same route as their first two finals duels. In 2016, Ginebra won the title through Justin Brownlee’s “The Shot” in Game 6. A year later, the Kings won in Game 7 but only after holding off the Bolts’ late surge.

    Projections are rife for another down-the-wire finish.

    “I think, our feelings are it’s gonna go down to a Game 7. That’s generally the case when you have two really good teams,” said Cone. “We’ll throw grenades at each other back and forth for a few games, and try to come down to the wire and see who wins it all.”

    Black said his team is equally ready to go the full route. “We feel like we’re in good shape,” he said. “We tried to pace our players throughout the entire conference to make sure they would stay fresh. We will be ready just in case it does go to a Game 7.”

    The duel is replete with underlying themes.

    Cone is looking to add to his league-most 21 titles and Black to the 11 already under his belt. The Kings are gunning for their 12th championship while the Bolts want to finally win one after acquiring the old Sta. Lucia Realty franchise in 2010.

    Both coaches know what it would take.

    “I always tell the players if you want to win the championship, then you just have to play good basketball. That’s where it comes down to,” said Black.

    “Offensively, defensively, we have to be prepared, we have to be able to attack whatever they’re doing defensively, defend anything they’re attacking you with, and just play good basketball on the court, whether it be moving the basketball and taking good shots or helping each other defensively. Those are the things you have to do to win.”

    Cone pretty much echoed the same sentiment. “It’s going to come down to playing good basketball. I think that’s what both coaches try to preach. And they’ve been the best defensive team this conference by far, and the best rebounding team this conference,” he said.

    Ginebra got some big breaks on its way to the finals, dispatching strife-wracked San Miguel Beer in the last eight and needing only four games to hurdle severely undermanned NorthPort in the semifinals.

    Meralco made short work of Alaska in the quarterfinals but had to win the last two games of the best-of-five semis to overcome highly-favored TNT.

    That and the Bolts’ additional motivation nag at Cone. “They went through TNT and still got toughened up. I think that can be a real edge going into the next series–when you’re used to playing a Game 5, under that condition and pressure,” he noted.

    “And the idea that everybody’s saying and reminding them that we did win the first two (title duels), that also goes to their edge because that’s going to make them incredibly hungry. These are the things that we take into account and we know we have to battle We’re just going to try to put our best foot forward and play our best basketball, as he (Black) said.”

    Ever the realist, Black had a word of caution for his charges. “Ginebra’s a tough team. They’re good offensively, they’re also solid defensively,” he stated.

    “We have our work cut out for us. It’s going to be difficult. But at the same time, this is probably our best chance of winning because I think we have the strength to be able to do it.”