Game 2 of the 2022 PBA Governors Cup Final appeared to be heading for a close finish, and the Meralco Bolts were within striking distance of a 2-0 series lead. If a few games got their way, they’d be right there.
The Bolts had managed to come out of a 20-point hole in the third quarter and had momentum as the game entered the final two minutes. The Barangay Ginebra Kings had a 94-91 lead with 1:22 to go when Chris Banchero blasted off to catch a miss from Scottie Thompson.
As soon as Banchero turned to start Meralco’s fast break, a pair of powerful hands ripped the ball from Meralco’s guard and poked it. Justin Brownlee, as he has done so many times in the past, had just given Barangay Ginebra a crucial blow. win with a big game.
“I thought it was the game of the match,” said Ginebra coach Tim Cone.
The steal was the exclamation point of a superb all-around effort from Brownlee, who played nearly 46 minutes and was one assist away from a triple-double (36-13-9) as the Gin Kings equalized the best of the seven series. at 1-1 with a 99-93 victory at the Mall of Asia Arena on Friday.
“This guy, he just knows how to step up,” Cone said, pointing his thumb at his import during the postgame media scrum. “He made me a good coach.”
Brownlee acknowledged the impact of his steal and dunk.
“Any type of game like that, especially when the crowd gets into it, it just gives us that extra momentum,” Brownlee said. “We didn’t play in a good rhythm throughout a streak in this fourth quarter, and playing like that gives us a big boost.”
After Game 1, several Bolts said they expected Brownlee to bounce back from being held 20 of 7 of 20 points. He certainly did, shooting much better in Game 2 (12 of 18 ) because this time he had a better idea of what the defense was giving him.
“I just understood better when to attack, try to let the game try to come towards me a little more,” Brownlee said. “Coach Tim, he’s done a great job helping me see that. But just from training we understood better the way Meralco plays us.”
As brilliant as Brownlee was, this win wasn’t just about him. Thompson, a top contender for the conference’s MVP title, played all but 29 seconds and posted 16 points and 12 rebounds, including one of the “kalawit” (one-handed) variety that energized the crowd. Christian Standhardinger was the Kings’ third player with a double-double, with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Then there was the Ginebra defense, which was absent in Game 1 when the Bolts torched them for nearly 52 percent shooting. In Game 2, Meralco shot just 43.8%, with Allein Maliksi characterizing the poor shooting night by going scoreless in 14 minutes after losing 22 in Game 1.
“I thought Jeff [Chan] really rose to the challenge,” Cone said of Maliksi’s 0-for-6 night.
“We challenged Jeff to come out and really play him, and obviously he was one of our targets because he had a huge impact in the first game and he was the guy we had to control. We didn’t think he’d go out scoreless, and that’s actually a little scary. Now we’re going to have to worry about Allein coming back in Game 3. But our guys rose to the challenge today and the really, really continued. It was good work.
But even with their local top scorer laying an egg, the Bolts had a big run after trailing 69-49 early in the third quarter thanks in large part to play from Aaron Black, who is slowly turning this final into his personal showcase.
Black wasted 15 of his 24 points in the third period, and his layup with 7:23 left brought the Bolts within two points at 84-86. He was named Game 1 MVP after scoring 12 points and grabbing six boards, and after his outburst in Game 2, he trusted Cone.
“Well, it becomes a normal thing, doesn’t it,” Cone said of Norman Black’s son. “He did it against Magnolia. He tore us apart in Game 1, and now he’s got them back in Game 2. He’s definitely playing at the All-Star level. And I’m sure Norman is really ‘kilig’ at this topic. I mean, wouldn’t you be if it was your son doing this?”
Deep down, however, Cone knew the head wasn’t safe, no matter how brilliant Brownlee and Thompson were.
“Right now, the PBA leaders, the NBA leaders, the basketball leaders, they’re so arbitrary,” he said.
“You can’t support them because of the three-point shooting and the changes in the game, and so we knew they were going to come back and fight us in the second half. And it was just a matter of trying to keep our composure. I mean, yeah, you’d like to keep that lead all the way. But in the final, it can be tough because the team you’re playing against is really good. They’re good defensively. They’re good offensively. They didn’t panic, and they got back into the game, and we must have made some very good plays.
With the series now essentially down to a best-of-five, Cone is hoping for a similar effort in Game 3 on Sunday.
“I think our guys did a good job,” he said. “And again, it was a play here and there. Justin’s great play, that Kalawit rebound by Scottie. I mean, I had a perfect angle on it. I mean, it was amazing. But, yeah , those are the types of games that win games, and if you can do that in a streak, they give you chances to win championships.”