Japeth Aguilar and LA Tenorio battled rust and inactivity, but that hardly mattered for a Barangay Ginebra team that had enough firepower beyond its two stars.
The Gin Kings relied on a resurgent second half from its supporting cast to hold off NLEX and grab a 102-92 win in the second game of the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup doubleheader restart Sunday at the Angeles University Foundation gym in Pampanga.
Aljon Mariano led seven players in double figures by scoring 20 for the Gin Kings, who joined San Miguel and TNT on top of the standings early on at 1-0.
"We played a lot better than I thought we would, but I still hope we play a lot better than how we did tonight. But it's nice to get that first one, especially since we didn't get much practice time with LA and Japeth," said coach Tim Cone. "I'm thankful for that one because that gets us off the right foot and hopefully we can move forward and go into our next game feeling confident."
Drawing offense elsewhere was vital given how Tenorio, who recently came off a laparoscopic surgery, and Aguilar were not in peak physical condition.
The duo, who arrived at the Clark bubble merely days before the season opener, struggled to get it going against NLEX; Aguilar had seven points (3-for-9) and three boards, while Tenorio, who managed to keep his 'Iron Man' streak alive at 642 games, managed just one point and missed all four of his shots in 11 minutes.
Fortunately, the rest of the team was up to the task and picked up the slack.
Scottie Thompson scored 12 points on three threes and grabbed 11 rebounds. Jared Dillinger and Stanley Pringle also chipped in 12, while Caperal, Joe Devance, and Jeff Chan threw in 11 for Ginebra.
"We had some guys that really stepped up in the void. You could see that LA was struggling out there a little bit, he wasn't his normal self," said Cone. "Tremendous courage in coming out and playing two weeks after surgery. That's just him. He doesn't wanna miss anything. He was really intent on playing. But we tried to monitor him, watch him with an eagle eye, make sure he wasn't hurting. But he looked alright in the game, he was just rusty.
"Japeth was the same. He was rusty as well. Guys like Aljon really stepped up. Prince stepped up for us. We got a really good second half from Scottie Thompson."
Tied at 55 with 8:51 on the clock after the break, Ginebra outscored the Road Warriors 20-4 in the next four minutes to take a commanding 75-59 lead that it would not relinquish until the final buzzer.
JR Quiñahan, who poured in 10 of his 26 points in the third, kept NLEX afloat, but the team found itself looking for production past him after the big man was ejected with 1:37 left in the quarter.
NLEX still managed to hang around and uncorked a 7-0 run early in the fourth to cut it to 85-82 and keep the Gin Kings on their toes, but a Prince Caperal three after the timeout stopped the bleeding and kept them Ginebra control.
Mariano later scored eight straight points on his own to put Ginebra ahead, 95-82, and essentially put the game out of reach.
Kevin Alas tallied 16 points, eight rebounds and five dimes for NLEX, while Jericho Cruz added 11. Kiefer Ravena had an uncharacteristically quiet night with six points on 2-for-8 shooting in 31 minutes.
"I thought we did such a tremendous job guarding Kiefer in the first half. And even though we played him so well, it was a tied ball game. So I thought maybe we'd be in some trouble in the second half," Cone remarked.
Cone said Ginebra still expects more from the rest of its bench guys.
"We expect more from Arvin Tolentino. We expect more from Jerrick Balanza. These guys we feel can step up for us. Kent Salado didn't play today but he will get some time as well and those other rookies of ours, and we have a lot of belief in them," he said. "So far, so good. Hope we can move forward and continue to grow as a team as we get in better shape and as we get our timing back."
BARANGAY GINEBRA (102) -- Mariano 20, Dillinger 12, Thompson 12, Pringle 12, Caperal 11, Chan 11, Devance 11, Aguilar 7, Tolentino 5, Tenorio 1, Aguilar 0, Balanza 0.
NLEX (92) -- Quiñahan 26, Alas 16, Cruz 11, Porter 9, Soyud 7, Ravena 6, Semerad 5, Miranda 4, Ighalo 3, Galanza 2, Ayonayon 2, Paniamogan 0.
Quarters: 31-22, 48-48, 83-75, 102-92.
- NLEX shot just 40 percent from the field and hit only eight of its 33 triples (24.2 percent).
- Ginebra offset sloppy ball-handling (20 turnovers) by finding the net on 12 of its 12 threes (41.4 percent).
- NLEX vs. Magnolia on Oct. 14 at 6:45 p.m
- Barangay Ginebra vs. Blackwater on Oct. 15 at 6:45 p.m