On the eve of his 33rd birthday, Mark Caguioa made sure it will be a memorable one.
Caguioa buckled down to work in the payoff period as Barangay Ginebra San Miguel continued its resurgence by holding off hard-fighting Alaska 96-93 Sunday night for its third straight win in the PBA Philippine Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The reigning league MVP, Caguioa drilled in 13 of his game-high 24 points in the fourth, including the team’s marginal baskets, while getting needed help from veteran center Billy Mamaril and Willie Wilson as the Gin Kings racked up their fifth win against as many losses.
Mamaril came up with 16 points while Chris Ellis and LA Tenorio combined for 22 markers for the Gin Kings, who got a needed lift from Wilson, who only had six points but also made big plays in the stretch.
“It’s good we were able to squeak out this win,” said Ginebra coach Siot Tanquingcen. “Pahirapan dahil malakas din Alaska. We’re blessed to come up with a win tonight and make the plays. It’s good we were able to get back our composure and get the win in the end game.”
The Aces sorely missed the service of energetic rookie Calvin Abueva, who was sidelined by a nasal infection he incurred in their previous outings, and, in the process, absorbed their fourth straight setback, relegating them to a tie with Petron Blaze at sixth with identical 5-6 marks.
“I don’t think it takes anything from our win. Abueva is a great player naman talaga. Breaks of the game ‘yun nataon, it’s a big boost yes but a win is a win for us. Sa amin we just go at it, cliché as it may seem, laro lang kami ng laro. We have to keep playing,” he added.
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The Gin Kings also avenged their stinging 67-89 defeat to the Aces last Oct. 28, with Abueva scoring 19 points and nine rebounds.
“It’s a big boost for us to win three in a row. Matagal na kaming hindi naka-three in a row. Maganda plays namin and everyone’s getting involved,” stated Caguioa, who also had four assists and three steals.
Struggling to get their usual rhythm, the Gin Kings stared at an alarming 72-80 deficit off an RJ Jazul early in the fourth before Caguioa lived up to his moniker of “The Spark,” racking up eight on their 16-5 counterattack that put Ginebra on top 88-85.
Four quick points from Sonny Thoss and Mac Baracael gave the Aces the lead anew at 89-88 but the Gin Kings managed to seize the upperhand anew, 91-89, courtesy of a split from rookie Chris Ellis and a tough fall-away jumper by Caguioa. A Cyrus Baguio pull-up over Caguioa then forged a 91-all count, ensuring a wild wind-up with 2:07 split.
As Wilson bungled his two free throws, Baguio drove hard to the lane then found a wide-open Baracael, who calmly sank a jumper at the left baseline, giving the Aces a 93-91 cushion.
Wilson tried to redeem himself by barreling his way in the lane but missed his point-blank attempt, only for Mamaril to tip the leather in for another tie at 93-apiece with 1:15 left.
In the ensuing play, Alaska guard JVee Casio dribbled the ball off his left foot before Wilson carved out space anew in the paint, only to feed a cutting Caguioa who swished through a floater for a big 95-93 breather, time down to just 43.4 seconds.
Casio then suffered another turnover, no thanks to the Gin Kings’ suffocating defense. Alaska, however, clamped down defensively and saw Tenorio bungle a three-point attempt but the Aces failed to control the rebound, with Mamaril hustling at the sideline and throwing the leather off Baguio with 7.2 ticks on the clock.
Ginebra nearly turned the ball over but Caguioa battled against two Aces, in the process getting fouled. He sank his first free throw–virtually pegging the final count–but missed his second but Baracael, following a loose-ball scrambled, tapped the ball out of bounds, practically ending their hopes with 1.1 seconds left.
Going down the drain was Baracael’s 21 points and the 16 markers out up by Casio for the Aces, who saw Thoss fouling out in the stretch.
Earlier, Petron Blaze continued to pick up steam by dispatching GlobalPort 110-81.
Versatile Chris Lutz tallied 22 points and six rebounds while Arwind Santos finished with 20 markers and 13 rebounds as the Boosters gained a fitting follow-up to their morale-boosting 96-86 win Rain or Shine last Wednesday.
Rookie slotman June Mar Fajardo, after a month-long absence due to a swollen scrotum, returned to the fold and made his presence felt with 14 points and seven boards while Marcio Lassiter and Jay Washington tallied 10 apiece for the Boosters, who promptly stepped on the gas from the get-go and virtually zoomed all the way.
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“It was a combination of a lot of things," noted Petron Blaze coach Olsen Racela. “We caught GlobalPort in its worst game of the season. I was really expecting it to be close. They've been playing really well, talo lang sa endgame. I'm really surprised with the big margin. Nagkataon lang kami naman ang sinuwerte sa offensive end.”
With veteran slotmen Danny Ildefonso and Dorian Pena still recuperating from their respective injuries, the return of the 6-foot-10 Fajardo has come in handy for the Boosters.
"He's a big addition because Danny I (Ildefonso) hindi nga makakalaro. First game back, kulang pa sa hangin, sa legs, that's why pinagtagal ko siya sa fourth period. But you can see he's a big difference when he's inside. Sa rebound, intimidating presence. Defensively, malaking bagay siya sa amin,” Racela added.
Showing up locked and loaded offensively, Petron Blaze swiftly pulled away from the struggling GlobalPort, taking a 58-34 cushion at the break before enjoying a whopping 97-65 lead–courtesy of Washington’s alley-oop jam off an Alex Cabagnot feed–midway in the final canto.
Rey Guevarra posted 14 points while ace gunner Gary David and Josh Vanlangdingham tallied 10 each for the Batang Pier, who now dropped their sixth straight outing and ninth overall against a lone win.
Petron Blaze 110 – Lutz 22, Santos 20, Fajardo 14, Lassiter 10, Washington 10, Mallari 6, Duncil 6, Yeo 5, Cabagnot 5, Faundo 4, Lanete 4, Miranda 4.
GlobalPort 81 – Guevarra 14, Vanlandingham 10, David 10, Mandani 8, Lingganay 6, Miller 6, Manuel 5, Al-Hussaini 5, Salvador 5, Antonio 5, Yee 4, Deutchman 3, Vergara 0, Adducul 0.
Quarterscores: 27-15, 58-34, 81-53, 110-81.
Ginebra 96 – Caguioa 24, Mamaril 16, Ellis 12, Tenorio 10, Espiritu 9, Maierhofer 8, Wilson 6, Hatfield 4, Taha 3, Labagala 2, Helterbrand 2.
Alaska 93 – Baracael 21, Casio 16, Jazul 10, Espinas 10, Thoss 10, Baguio 9, Hontiveros 7, Eman 6, Reyes 2, Dela Cruz 2, Belasco 0.
Quarterscores: 21-18, 46-42, 68-73, 96-93