THE third installment in the Ginebra-Meralco finals saga may yet take a familiar route and see the Kings foil the Bolts anew.
Or it may go a different path altogether, which is a distinct possibility for Meralco coach Norman Black.
“We have a different team,” Black said in last Saturday’s pre-finals presscon. “We are probably more balanced this year, a little bit stronger.”
Black’s statements stem from the lineup he now totes, which is a vastly different one than the Meralco teams Ginebra beat in their previous tournament finals meetings in 2016 and 2017.
Raymond Almazan is now giving the Bolts the inside presence they sorely lacked before while Allein Maliksi, John Pinto and, if need be, Raymar Jose add depth to Black’s bench and ready to provide Allen Durham the much-needed support.
“We have a bigger guy in the paint in Raymond Almazan,” noted Black. “We have new additions who helped us a lot this conference. And, of course, we have AD, who’s been really our rock so far this conference that has really helped up get back to this point.”
Game 1 of the best-of-seven battle is set Tuesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Almazan looked forward to the challenge of ranging up against the likes of Greg Slaughter and Japeth Aguilar.
“Gusto ko ‘yun kasi talagang mga big man ‘yun,” said the beanpole center.
“They definitely got bigger and filled the hole in the middle with Raymond,” offered Slaughter before pointing out it should not be all about the protagonists’ frontcourt.
That’s not saying Ginebra sat idly by.
“But we also have a new addition in Stanley,” Slaughter pointed out. “So it will really be interesting to see how it goes out.”
Pringle should indeed be a major factor in the series after posting norms of 19.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 4.0 assists in their semifinals duel with the NorthPort Batang Pier.
It is not just the reigning scoring champion who is bolstering the Kings, however.
“We’ve got some guys we picked up, we got Stanley and Jared and Art (Dela Cruz) wasn’t with us in the first two series,” said Ginebra coach Tim Cone.
“We’re a little different as well. Jared (Dillinger) changed sides, and he was a big time player for them during those two series and he’s over here with us.”
The 35-year-old Dillinger has had plenty of experience. The second overall pick of the 2008 draft has won five PBA titles while with TNT and should bring with him ample knowledge of the Meralco team he played for since 2013 before being picked up by Ginebra from free agency last May.
“For sure marami siyang maco-contribute sa ‘min, ‘di lang sa laro,” said Kings guard Scottie Thompson. “Kasi sa practice nakikita namin, talagang veteran siya, leader siya para sa team. Isa siya sa naging leaders namin ngayon.”