Home Sports The PH Cup will decide its two finalists with rubber matches; as...

The PH Cup will decide its two finalists with rubber matches; as heavyweights are pushed to the limit by foes very few thought would get this deep

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Stanley Pringle has risen when Ginebra needs him most. —PHOTO COURTESY OF PBA IMAGES

TNT coach Bong Ravena sounded relieved when he walked into a postgame interview on Wednesday night and said, “It’s anybody’s ball game now.”

His Barangay Ginebra counterpart, Tim Cone, wished it weren’t so: “We hoped to not play this game, but Meralco had a different idea.”

Ravena and Cone, coaches of squads many had predicted would battle for the PBA Philippine Cup championship, vie for slots in the Finals against separate foes in a Friday doubleheader that starts at 3:45 p.m. at Angeles University Foundation powered by Smart 5G.

It will be a deciding Game 5 for both coaches, but the paths they took there underline the difference in the tone of their voices when talking about the knockout match.

Cone and the Kings had a chance to finish off Meralco in Game 4 last Wednesday but the Bolts delivered two crucial charges on opposite ends of the floor to force the do-or-die showdown.

“They came out with a great game plan and put us on our heels,” Cone added after losing Game 4, 83-80. “We had a good comeback. Except for a few breaks of the game, we could’ve pulled it out.”

Cone was referring to a missed call on Meralco’s John Pinto, who grabbed Kings guard LA Tenorio’s jersey during Ginebra’s inbound play in the final 21.7 seconds. Instead, it resulted to a turnover called against Ginebra.

The PBA, through deputy commissioner Eric Castro, admitted to the lapse, owing to the game official’s position during the sequence.

“We get our calls and we don’t get our calls. Nothing that we can do about it now. So we just move on,” Cone said. “It happens. You just have to play through them. That’s something you have no control over. We wish it would’ve been different, but it’s not.”

“It was a game-changer, no doubt about it,” Cone added.

But so was a Reynel Hugnatan jumper that gave Meralco the lead for good with 15 seconds to play and the Raymond Almazan block seven seconds later that iced the outcome.

“We did a good job of defending Stanley Pringle,” Meralco coach Norman Black said. “But like in Game 3, he was able to get away with a lot of points. We have to make sure that we don’t allow him to bust out again the way he did in Game 3.”

Phoenix, the No. 2 squad which is, however, the underdog against a talent-laden TNT, was on the doorstep of a Finals appearance but was foiled by Ray Parks Jr. and the Tropang Giga (See related story on Page A16.)—thus Ravena’s palpable relief after Wednesday’s 102-101 victory gave his pricey squad a shot at averting a disappointing end to the season.

But the Fuel Masters are still confident they can deliver some hurt to their foes.

“I’m still confident of us,” Phoenix top gun Matthew Wright said. “We’ve shown that we’re the better team. It took [TNT] their best shooting game to just beat us by one. And we played terrible.”

“Obviously, that’s a great team—a lot of firepower, which gets them out of a lot of trouble. But I think if we just played regular Phoenix basketball, we should win the series,” Wright added.

Wright thinks that Phoenix’ penchant for using all of its players will be its biggest weapon against the Tropang Giga’s roster of stars.

“Us playing all of our 14 guys is gonna be a factor. We’re tired, and I know for damn sure they’re tired. But we have more depth than they do,” he said.

Ravena thinks Friday’s clash will turn into a dogfight, as he feels that Phoenix has brought the best out of his squad.

“We know that [the Fuel Masters] are no pushovers. But we’ve been improving our game,” he said. “We just have to stay within our system and game plans.”

“It will be a test of toughness—of both the mind and heart,” Ravena added.

“Game 5 should be a great one,” Cone said. “It will come down, simply, to execution.

“I don’t think either team wants to go home yet,” he added.


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