Barangay Ginebra tops Meralco Bolts in Game 6 to win PBA Governors' Cup title

Barangay Ginebra have been crowned the 2022 PBA Governors' Cup champions after sealing a 4-2 series win over Meralco Bolts in the finals with a 103-92 Game 6 victory. PBA Media Bureau

Barangay Ginebra San Miguel completed a remarkable turnaround in its 2022 PBA Governors' Cup campaign, winning the championship Friday as a sixth seed following a 103-92 thumping of the Meralco Bolts in front of 20,224 at the Mall of Asia Arena.

LA Tenorio and Justin Brownlee powered a pivotal 11-0 run in the fourth quarter to push Ginebra ahead, 96-80, with 4:35 remaining. The Bolts cut it to 10, but Tenorio, who led Ginebra with 30 points, hit a floater and a 3-pointer to put the game away.

Ginebra got offense from a variety of sources. Brownlee knocked down 24 points, Christian Standhardinger had 19, while Scottie Thompson, who was named Finals MVP, added 15.

The Gin Kings lost four straight games in the elimination round to drop to the sixth seed with a 6-5 record, but found their mojo in the playoffs, overcoming a twice-to-beat disadvantage against the third seed TNT Tropang Giga in the quarterfinals before dispatching second seed NLEX Road Warriors in four games in the semifinals to set up a third Governors' Cup finals clash with the fourth-seeded Bolts.

After falling behind 1-2 in the finals, the Gin Kings swept the last three games to claim the franchise's fourth Governors' Cup title and 14th overall, moving them into a tie for second place in league history with the Alaska and Purefoods franchises. The San Miguel Beermen are the winningest franchise of all time with 27 titles.

The victory gave Ginebra coach Tim Cone his 24th PBA title overall, the most in league history and nine more than the late Baby Dalupan. Among active coaches, Bolts coach Norman Black has the second-most with 11.

Black lost for the sixth time in a PBA championship series to Cone, while Meralco lost to Ginebra for the fourth time in a Governors' Cup Finals.

"It's a little bit shocking at this point for us, because we were so far down at one point," said Cone, who won his sixth title with the Gin Kings. "I mean, we had really reached the bottom of the barrel, and there was a point where I didn't think we were gonna emerge and make a statement this conference. But again, we have a very veteran team. We have great veteran leadership, and the leadership really stepped up."

Ginebra lost big to archrival Magnolia just before the league took a six-week break due to another Covid outbreak. When play resumed, the team promptly dropped three more games.

"We made a decision when we came back from the pandemic break, when we had to stop and come back," Cone said. "We came back and made the decision that we would put the ball in Scottie's hands more often and move LA off the ball a little bit more to save his legs. Scottie struggled with it for a couple of games, but after a while he really started to get it. And that's when Scottie's game elevated to a whole new level. He had the opportunity to really control and run the team. I thought that was one of the biggest things we did."

Early on, it appeared as if Meralco would force a deciding Game 7 on Sunday. The Bolts took a 28-21 lead in the second quarter and although Ginebra would eventually erase the deficit, neither team could pull away. When the halftime break arrived, the score was tied at 47 and Brownlee only had two points. Cone took all this as a positive sign.

"We did not play well in the first half. We struggled, but they kept finding ways to stay in the game," Cone said. "And I kept looking up at the score. I remember, this was so vivid, I kept looking up at the score and thinking that, I thought we'd be down nine or 11 points. And when I looked at the score, we're only down one. Or only down three. And it surprised me, 'cause it felt that they were really just outplaying us."

In the second half, Ginebra began to assert its will, primarily through the ageless Tenorio, who was playing his 699th consecutive PBA game. The 37-year-old picked up the scoring slack and had his first 30-point game in six years, and interestingly, his fourth against the Bolts. Brownlee also stepped up, dropping 17 points in the third when the Gin Kings began to pull away.

"That's what LA does for us," Cone said. "He makes big plays, he makes big shots, and he took over the game in that fourth quarter. He really, truly did. And, he's a kid who loves to win, and knows how to win. He's taught himself how to win over the years, and he's our captain."

Any Ginebra championship story would be incomplete without acknowledging its fandom, easily the biggest and most storied in PBA history. As the league set another new pandemic single-game attendance record, Cone reflected on the team's sixth man and the never-say-die mantra that has defined the franchise since 1985.

"Am I shocked? Yes. I am shocked that we are here. But, you know, NSD. [never-say-die]. We're a team that doesn't quit. We have that legacy, and it's always an honor and a curse to try to live up to that all the time. Because it's really hard to live up to, but these guys have been finding ways to do that. I think if this had happened to us in the bubble, when we had that bad start or that bad middle, we wouldn't have been able to overcome [it]. But we started playing better basketball, the fans started going crazy. And that just lifted us up and kept us moving forward."