Barangay Ginebra caught enough big breaks to avert a complete meltdown and escape with a 96-93 victory over TNT KaTropa Friday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Ginebra improved to 6-3 and clinched a PBA Governors' Cup quarterfinal berth while also staying in contention for a twice-to-beat incentive. TNT, meanwhile, dropped their second straight and slid to 7-2.
The Kings were poised to finish strong after LA Tenorio's free throws at the 4:07 mark gave them a commanding 92-82 lead, but TNT stormed back with a 10-0 run and tied things up through a corner three from Roger Pogoy, who converted off an inbound with 32 seconds left.
Stanley Pringle was able to answer for Ginebra as he dusted off KJ McDaniels for an easy lay-in to give his side a 94-92 buffer with 15 seconds to go. McDaniels had a chance to make amends on the other end, but he missed the second of two free throws that would have helped TNT equalize. Ginebra was then able to secure the rebound thanks to a timely save by Tenorio, who was able to throw it to Justin Brownlee.
Brownlee was then fouled and made both his freebies to help Ginebra gain a three-point separation over the KaTropa, who failed to send the game to overtime as Ray Parks' game-tying shot from near half-court failed to find iron.
"That was huge. That was a huge win for us. Really a must, must-win. I'm happy to get it. Really happy to get it, even though we didn't play well in the last two minutes, we didn't execute the way we wanted to. We were able to still pull it out. We were fortunate," coach Tim Cone said after the game.
It was a successful second-half turnaround for Ginebra, who trailed by as many as 15 in the first half thanks to some sloppy execution. The Kings missed all six of their threes in the first two quarters and allowed TNT to capitalize on their 10 turnovers, which led to 22 points for the KaTropa.
"When we started the game, we weren't confident. Our confidence was shaking after playing against Meralco," Cone said. "We were out of sync. We weren't playing well at all, but we were defending pretty well. To begin the game, we were all messed up on our schemes and techniques. But we started to get better as the game got going. I thought in the second half we came out, established a rhythm and got ahead."
Sure enough, Ginebra got out of the rut and went 4-for-8 from deep in the third quarter, including two straight to help Kings go up 56-50 after TNT countered their 10-2 start after the break.
An 8-0 start to the final frame by Ginebra behind Tenorio and Japeth Aguilar gave the team its biggest lead of the game at 82-66, but the KaTropa found their groove in the fourth by hitting 6-of 13 threes, including that Pogoy three to make up for their janky second half execution.
"What a shot by Pogoy. That's why he's on the national team. I told him that's why he's on the national team. I told him yesterday in practice if he misses a few 3-point shots tonight, I'll give him more playing time for the national team, but he didn't miss any so he didn't get any extra playing time. He's out of luck," Cone said jokingly.
"They did that without Jayson [Castro]," he said. "When Jayson gets back, they're gonna be a force."
Aguilar became the Kings' anchor in the middle in the absence of Greg Slaughter, who dislocated his thumb Thursday, and finished with 29 points and 10 boards. Brownlee threw in 24 points, 16 boards and six assists, while Tenorio and Pringle chipped in 19 and 14, respectively.
Ginebra now holds solo fourth after scoring a win over San Miguel, which holds the same record as theirs, and have a chance to secure their spot inside the top four if it wins its final two games.
"Luckily we have quotient. We beat [San Miguel], so we have quotient. So that's the key at this point. Ironically, the three sister teams (Magnolia, SMB, Ginebra) are battling it out for a slot, but we've got quotient over the two of them. So we control our own destiny," Cone said. "If we win out, then we make top four no matter what happens. That's why this game was so important and crucial. And TNT is going to play San Miguel, and they have Magnolia in their next game. So the team that was going to beat TNT was going to have a big edge because they're not going to lose all three games, that's for sure."
TNT, which has Magnolia and San Miguel left on its schedule, continued to play without Jayson Castro (right ankle) and was led by 32 points and 12 rebounds from McDaniels. Pogoy added 23 built around five triples.
Ray Parks couldn't rally TNT in his debut but he and his new teammates found reasons to be optimistic.
Parks was immediately inserted into the starting lineup and finished with 17 points on 6-for-12 shooting from the field and 4-for-8 from 3-point range in 42 minutes of play.
"It was definitely a great game. Just the breaks went the other way. I take full responsibility [for] the loss. TNT is a great group and I'm still adjusting, but the guys did a great job of taking me in. I gotta step into the plate and do better," he said.
TNT had a chance to send the game into overtime in the final seconds but the KaTropa could only settle for a near mid-court shot from Parks that hit all board.
"It was a quick transition, but my teammates and the coaching staff did a great job of settling me in and trying to implement the system," Parks said. "Sometimes it's different when the lights are on, it's show time and the breaks of the game are different. ... I gotta get back into really knowing the system like the back of my hand."
Active team consultant Mark Dickel thought Parks had a good outing.
"He's had 3 practices with us. It's never easy. We run some different stuff to what he's used to and it will be obviously much easier if Jayson [Castro] is here, just allowing him to play more the natural role that he's going to play when [Castro] comes back," said Dickel. "I was happy with him, I thought he played good, especially in the endgame, I thought he gave us a chance to get back in the game and tie it up."
Parks and TNT have at least four more weeks before Castro returns to the lineup. Until then, the team will continue to work on getting Parks settled in.
"Just getting to know the system more, when to get my shots and when not to. It's more of settling in and trying to get everybody their shots, make their job easier 'cause that's what I wanna do for Roger, Troy (Rosario) and kuya Jayson when he comes back because this is their team. I just wanna fit in, you know, help them out," Parks said.
TNT (7-2) will have six days to prepare for Magnolia (5-4), which has won two straight games and is looking to break into the top four to snatch a twice-to-beat advantage.
Ginebra 96 - Aguilar 29, Brownlee 24, Tenorio 19, Pringle 14, Dela Cruz 8, Chan 2, Thompson 0, Sargent 0, Caperal 0, Mariano 0.
TNT 93 - McDaniels 32, Pogoy 23, Parks 17, Vosotros 2, Digregorio 2, Williams 2, De Leon 2, Semerad 0, Reyes 0.
Quarters: 17-23, 38-44, 74-68, 96-93.
Cone said they're taking it easy on Slaughter, who doesn't have a clear timetable for a return. "We're hoping it's a few days, but we can't really tell. We didn't see any ligament damage in the MRI. That was a clear dislocation. You could see his finger was dangling when he got hit during practice. We're hoping within a week, he can come back but we'll never know, it could be longer."
Per PBA statistician Fidel Mangonon III, Ginebra has assured itself of extending its all-time league record for most consecutive playoff appearances to 37 after clinching a spot with the win.
Brownlee is one triple away from being just the second import alongside Lamont Strothers to hit 300 3-pointers as an import.
Barangay Ginebra vs. Columbian on Nov. 15 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
TNT vs. Magnolia on Nov. 16 at the University of Southeastern Philippines Gym in Davao.