Barangay Ginebra is one win away from the PBA Governors' Cup crown after blowing out the Meralco Bolts 94-72 in Game 4 Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Locked in a tight affair with the Bolts after a sluggish opening frame, the Gin Kings leaned on brilliant offensive outings from Justin Brownlee and Stanley Pringle in the following quarters to pull away and take a 3-1 series.
Brownlee, hours after watching counterpart Allen Durham bag his third Bobby Parks Best Import of the Conference award, thoroughly diced Meralco to the tune of 27 points, eight boards, eight assists, five steals and four blocks in the win. Pringle added 21 points on 8-for-17 shooting.
It was Ginebra's defense that sealed the deal, though, as its stingy work on the other end of the floor forced Meralco to convert on only 37 percent of its shots, including an awful 3-for-26 mark (11 percent) on triples.
Durham was also kept in check, needing 23 shots to score his 21 points. The import did have 27 rebounds and seven assists to try to make up for the dismal offensive showing, but he still coughed up the ball six times thanks to an unforgiving Gin Kings game plan.
"I thought we did a good, methodical job. We were very methodical tonight in breaking them a little bit down on the offensive side tonight. And then we did a great job against Durham," Ginebra coach Tim Cone said. "We played an outstanding defensive game. I like the word 'methodical' -- we were very methodical out there. We weren't rushing. We built the lead slowly then kept it when we got it."
After a slow first 12 minutes, where Ginebra and Meralco combined to shoot 6-for-43 (27.9 percent) in a 14-all deadlock, the Gin Kings drew momentum behind Brownlee, who buried 15 of Ginebra's 28 second quarter points, to take a comfortable 42-31 lead entering halftime.
Pringle and LA Tenorio later got the team's offense going with eight straight points and two triples before Ginebra compounded on Meralco's turnover woes, with a second consecutive Bolts miscue leading to another Tenorio triple from the right wing to widen the gap to 19, 61-42.
Ginebra went on cruise control the rest of the way and even hiked the lead to 27 after a Mark Caguioa jumper delivered on a jumper to cap off a 13-0 binge in the final 3:33.
Scottie Thompson also chipped in 16 points, six rebounds and four assists for Ginebra.
The Gin Kings can wrap up the best-of-seven series and bag the title with a win in Game 5 on Friday, Jan. 17 at the Mall of Asia Arena, but Cone is wary of a fightback from a Meralco team that has its back firmly against the wall.
"I would love it if it did, but no I don't think so," Cone said when asked whether or not they can finish the series on Friday. "We will try our best obviously. But this team has shown a lot of character in the past when we played them. We got 2-0 on them and they came back and beat us two straight in one series. So we know they're capable of coming back."
Meralco's Raymond Almazan -- diagnosed with a lateral meniscus tear on his left leg Tuesday -- played and managed 12 points, nine rebounds and one block. Almazan was a game-time decision coming into Wednesday's game and will wait to see if he feels up to playing Friday in Game 5.
"I was asked by coach [Norman Black] if I wanted to play, I said I could," Almazan said in Filipino. "After drinking painkillers three times a day, I could barely feel it. But there's still some pain, much like when a needle is poking the tip of your fingers.
Almazan's limited capacity contributed to Meralco's woes Wednesday but coach Norman Black blasted his team's overall effort, repeatedly calling the team's lack of resistance against the Gin Kings "embarrassing."
"I don't wanna make excuses, it is what it is. I'm sure you guys could figure out that he's the main cog in our machine, and right now he's not playing at a hundred percent and it's really affecting the team, but hey, other guys should be able to step up and take his place, or at least play better basketball than we did tonight," Black said. "I'm a little bit embarrassed with the way the team played and the effort we gave. And for me, it's an embarrassment to the PBA that we came out and didn't give them a better fight."
Ginebra 94 - Brownlee 27, Pringle 21, Thompson 16, Tenorio 8, Dillinger 7, Aguilar 5, Caguioa 5, Mariano 3, Slaughter 2, Caperal 0, Chan 0, Dela Cruz 0.
Meralco 72 - Durham 21, Newsome 12, Almazan 12, Quinto 7, Salva 6, Maliksi 6, Caram 4, Amer 2, Hodge 2, Faundo 0, Jackson 0, Pinto 0.
Quarterscores: 14-14, 42-31, 70-55, 94-72.
Meralco's 31 first-half points are the lowest since San Miguel's 25 vs Magnolia in Game 7 of this year's Philippine Cup finals, according to PBA statistician Fidel Mangonon III.
Meralco had more turnovers (19) than assists (13) against Ginebra.
Former PBA player Willie Generalao was in attendance. Generalao was the league's Rookie of the Year in 1980 while playing for Gilbey's Gin, forerunner of Ginebra.
ESPN5's Philip Matel contributed to this report.