The theme revolving around Barangay Ginebra's 105-91 Friday night win against the Blackwater Elite was comebacks.
For one, Greg Slaughter made his highly anticipated return to the lineup, tallying 12 points and six rebounds in 24 minutes of play. Even Blackwater had an amazing story of their own, as Paul Zamar made his return to basketball in the Philippines, six years after he was drafted and cut from the PBA.
But there was one comeback that flew under the radar in the Alonte Sports Arena, and it made a huge difference and was the reason for Ginebra's dominating win against the Elite -- their bench production.
A combination of injuries and sluggishness haunted Barangay Ginebra in their 0-2 start to the Commissioner's Cup. For whatever reason, when Ginebra went to their bench, they were unable to sustain the production of the starting unit. Case in point- Ginebra averaging only 18 points off the bench, outscored by a total of 83 points by their counterparts from TNT and Rain or Shine.
But that changed versus Blackwater, as the second unit exploded for 41 points to help rout the Elite. The main reason, according to veteran Sol Mercado, was a challenge thrown at the second unit by coach Tim Cone.
"What's crazy about the game is that even before the game, coach put it on the second team," Mercado shared. "Because we started a huge lineup, he said 'I'm not sure this is gonna work or not, second group we're gonna need you to come in pick us up.' And we kinda took it as a challenge, so we did."
Mercado accepted the challenge as a veteran knowing his team was in a tough 0-2 hole. He responded with eight points on 3/6 from the field to go along with three rebounds and two assists.
"As one of the leaders of the team coming off the bench, I just try to dictate the tempo. Try to give us a different look, try to keep the same intensity that the first group is giving us for ever long I can be out there to give the guys a rest before they get back out there."
Mercado and company did exactly that in the second quarter, as they turned what was a 5-point lead to start the second quarter into a 23-point advantage entering the halftime break.
From then on, Blackwater was unable to get any closer than 17 points until a few shots in garbage time. Instead of a letdown when Gienbra went to their second unit, they surged ahead and never turned back.
Having Slaughter back definitely helped as well. The big man played majority of the Philippine Cup, but was unavailable for the playoffs as well as the team's first two games in this conference. But having the big man back completely changed the looks his teammates were getting. Slaughter played minutes with the bench in the second quarter, and his presence opened things up in a big way.
"I think Greg's return made our jobs so much easier," shared second year forward Kevin Ferrer, who topscored for the team off the bench with 21 points anchored on five triples. "When Greg gets the ball inside, the defenders clog the paint. So we're able to set our position and find a rhythm from outside."
Ferrer struggled with his shot before his big game against the Elite. But with Slaughter on the floor, and the Elite's game plan to stop him, Ferrer had enough time to lock and load from beyond the arc. "The past two games, I've been rushing my shot. This game, I made sure my shots were going in. It felt good, because I wasn't rushing anything."
Ginebra finally snapped its two-game skid after starting 0-2 -- the first time they began a conference 0-2 since the 2016 Commissioner's Cup, the first year that Tim Cone joined the franchise. It was a huge burden off their backs, but they've still got a long road to climb in this young season. Slowly but surely, they are getting all their guys back, and are looking to play consistently on a high level.