Coach Tim Cone's memory has not allowed him to forget the time he blew a 3-1 series lead in the playoffs 14 years ago, when he was coaching the Alaska Aces in the 2006 PBA Philippine Cup.
"I have lost a 3-1 lead before, in a series. I lost it to Ryan Gregorio and Purefoods, and I'll never forget that," said Cone, who later went on to coach the opposing franchise to a Grand Slam later in his career. "It was in the semifinals, we were up 3-1, and I think that's only happened a few times in PBA history, and it happened to the team I coached."
Cone finds himself in a similar position once more with Barangay Ginebra, who moved a win away from the 2019-20 Governors' Cup crown after thumping the Meralco Bolts in Game 4 of the best-of-seven series.
Picking up a win to wrap it all up and avoid further complications is clearly a task that's easier said than done, but the Gin Kings already have an idea where to start on Friday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Strong first quarters, Cone noted, have been a staple for this Meralco team all conference long. That was especially true in the Bolts' lone win so far in these finals, where they buried Ginebra with an avalanche of triples to start Game 2 last Jan. 10 in Lucena.
The Gin Kings held the Bolts to a 14-all stalemate in the first 12 minutes Wednesday, and the coach thinks Ginebra should do more of the same in order to dictate the tempo the rest of the way.
"Well any time a team gets their back to the wall, you know they're gonna come out with a lot of fire. I think they tried that [in Game 4] and we kinda met their force and we're able to keep the game under control," he said. "We didn't let them get that big spurt in the first quarter, and I think that kinda discouraged them a little bit, maybe, going into the second quarter.
"They've been a very, very, very good first quarter team throughout this whole conference. You look at their first quarters. They have basically destroyed teams in that first quarter ... We're trying to prevent that big first quarter from them, and that's something we're gonna have to do in Game 5, because that's where they grab their momentum and their confidence."
On the other hand, Meralco is just hoping to firmly put away what coach Norman Black repeatedly called an "embarrassing" effort against Ginebra to be able to force Games 6 and 7, which will be held at the Philippine Arena in Bulacan. The offense was brutal -- the Bolts shot 37 percent from the field and sank only 3-for-26 3s, with the last one coming in garbage time with two minutes left in the game - but Black rued Meralco's lackluster defense, which allowed Ginebra to run roughshod over them.
"We didn't shoot the ball well, but more importantly we did not defend well. It's the second game in a row that we didn't defend well. We didn't get back defensively, we didn't match up, and we were giving them way too many easy shots, too many layups," Black noted.
"if you ever analyze basketball, you can't focus on little things if you can't solve big things. In other words, we can't get back on defense. It's hard to focus on pick-and-roll defense and post defense when you just can't get back on defense," added Black. "If we don't score, I'm not really too concerned about that because if you play good defense, then you'll probably end up scoring. Good defense normally leads to scoring. I just wanna see more effort."
Meralco allowed Ginebra to shoot 67.6 percent from the shaded area, anchoring an offense that made 46.9 percent of its shots overall.
Ginebra, though, isn't taking any chances and aren't keen on treating a hobbled Meralco team lightly.
"I'm still looking at them like a dangerous team, and they probably lost some confidence, but I think a turnaround (is) coming in Friday," said Justin Brownlee, who torched Meralco for 27 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, five steals and four blocks in a statement performance. "They're gonna be very confident in what they can do to try to force another game and just try to force this game into seven. So, you know we can't do that. Can't do that no matter how they act or what the body language. We know they can be dangerous at any given time."