By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Kings got the early lead in their best-of-seven Philippine Basketball Association Governors’ Cup finals series after taking Game One over the Meralco Bolts, 91-87, on Tuesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Banking on their collective depth, the Kings bucked early struggles in the contest and went on a strong finish to draw first blood against the Bolts in the championship joust for the season-ending PBA conference where they are meeting for the third time in the last four years.
Import Justin Brownlee led Barangay Ginebra with 38 points and 16 rebounds, with Japeth Aguilar adding 16 points and six rebounds in the win.
It was tightly fought in the opening quarter and a half until the Bolts made a late run in the closing half of the second frame to take a 41-37 advantage by the halftime break.
Mr. Brownlee got the Kings to a strong start in the third canto, with the team outscoring the Bolts, 10-4, in the first four minutes to take the lead, 47-45.
But Raymond Almazan and Allen Durham led a 13-3 response by Meralco in the next two minutes to go on top, 58-50.
Barangay Ginebra tried to rally back but it remained trailing, 71-68, heading into the final quarter.
The Kings opened the fourth quarter with an 8-2 run to seize the lead anew, 76-73, with 9:20 left in the game.
They continued to hold sway, 80-75, at the midway point of the payoff quarter.
The teams went back-and-forth after with Meralco eventually reclaiming the upper hand, 85-84, with 2:38 remaining.
LA Tenorio gave back the lead to the Kings, 86-85, with 1:40 to go on the clock.
Mr. Durham then countered with a deuce from the charity stripe with 1:20 left to hand back the lead to the Bolts, 87-86..
Meralco had a chance to add on to its lead with less than a minute to play but they turned the ball over.
Mr. Brownlee made them pay with two free throws made with 33 ticks left to push Barangay Ginebra ahead, 88-87.
Meralco sued for time to set up a play.
Off the timeout, the ball swung to rookie Bong Quinto whose three-point attempt missed the mark.
Mr. Quinto then was forced to foul Stanley Pringle off the rebound.
But Mr. Pringle split his free throws to still open the door for the Bolts, 89-87, with 18 seconds left.
Meralco once again called timeout.
The Bolts went to Mr. Durham, who drove to the basket hard only to be blocked by Mr. Aguilar.
Mr. Brownlee got the ball and was immediately fouled with 11 seconds left.
The Kings import drained his free throws to put the game away.
Mr. Tenorio finished with 14 points while Mr. Pringle had 10 for the Kings.
For Meralco it was Mr. Durham who paced with a triple-double of 25 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists.
Mr. Newsome added 24 points while Mr. Almazan had 20.
Game Two of the finals is on Jan. 10.