Barangay Ginebra used a balanced attack to dispatch NorthPort 120-107 in Game 4 Friday to book a return ticket to the PBA Governors' Cup finals. All five starters scored in double-figures for the Gin Kings, which shot a sterling 55 percent from the field to reach the title stage for the first time since its championship campaign in 2017.
"It's good to be back in the finals again. It's been a while for us, about four conferences," coach Tim Cone said. "We've gotten close, but we haven't gotten over the hump. We've talked a lot about that this conference, about getting over the hump, and getting to the finals. We didn't want the semis to be the only level we get to. We hit the semis a lot, but we haven't gotten to the finals.
Justin Brownlee flirted with a triple-double with 36 points, 19 rebounds and eight assists, while Japeth Aguilar tossed in 20 points. LA Tenorio dropped 13 of his 19 points in the final frame. Stanley Pringle and Scottie Thompson added 18 and 14 apiece.
Ginebra, clearly wanting no part of a winner-take-all Game 5, wasted no time trying to put the Batang Pier away in the first 12 minutes as it leaned on Pringle's 10 first-quarter points to build a lead as big as 15 early on.
Brownlee continued the Gin Kings' assault by pouring in 11 of his own in the second quarter, including a trey that stretched the lead to 56-34 before the halftime break.
Paolo Taha blew up for 21 of his 29 points in the third quarter to try and spark a Batang Pier fightback but Ginebra stayed the course and had answers for every big basket, with Brownlee and Aguilar combining to score 18 in a period where the team hit five of its 12 triples.
Tenorio then set the tone for a strong finish in an explosive start to the final frame, where he hit three triples and scored 13 of Ginebra's first 15 points.
"It's good that we didn't have to go to a fifth game. I'm just so happy that we didn't have to go to a fifth game," said Cone. "That will go down as one of the great PBA games of all time. We knew they had the character in them to play us.
"The thing I appreciate is our guys came out focused, ready. We didn't take anything for granted. We had our game faces on from the very beginning. That's what you're looking for from a coaching standpoint, that kind of focus and effort right there to start the game after you've won a couple of blowouts."
Aguilar also missed a triple-double by adding nine rebounds and seven dimes, while Thompson pulled down 10 boards.
Ginebra will now await the winner of the TNT-Meralco semifinals match-up to determine its opponent. A KaTropa win on Saturday will put them on a collision course with the Gin Kings, but the Bolts could still set up a trilogy with the Kings.
"We'll take a Christmas Day off, that's for sure. We'll take a New Year's Day off, that's for sure. That's the only thing we know for sure we're gonna take off. I don't think the guys are gonna be asking for that much time off. It's too important to come out and play in the finals, too big of an opportunity," Cone said of the Gin Kings' plans over the holidays.
While NorthPort saw an impressive run to the semis as an eight-seed come to an end, it didn't go down without a fight as it still saw encouraging efforts from Christian Standhardinger (32 points, 15 boards and seven assists), Taha (29 points, 5-for-8 threes) and import Michael Qualls (25 points).
"We're OK. We overachieved. Nobody expected we'd be here," NorthPort coach Pido Jarencio said.
Jarencio is mum on any changes NorthPort could make in the offseason, but he said the team will always look to prepare with the unit that it has
"We're always preparing for our next conference. Whoever's in the lineup, we'll fight. That's the only thing we're supposed to do," he said.
Ginebra 120 - Brownlee 36, Aguilar 20, Tenorio 19, Pringle 18, Thompson 14, Slaughter 6, Mariano 4, Chan 3, Dillinger 0.
NorthPort 107 - Standhardinger 32, Taha 29, Qualls 25, Anthony 18, Lanete 2, Elorde 1, Cruz 0, King 0, Escoto 0.
Quarterscores: 32-21, 56-39, 86-75, 120-107.
Even if the Batang Pier bench outscored the Gin Kings 29-13 in Game 4, Cone said Ginebra's depth proved to be the deciding factor as NorthPort dealt with injuries to Robert Bolick, Kevin Ferrer and Sol Mercado.
Taha and Sean Anthony combined for 8-for-17 shooting from downtown, but the rest of the team shot only 2-for-14 there.