The never-say-die spirit of Barangay Ginebra will be under a big test this afternoon as they collide with second-seeded team Meralco Bolts in a must-win affair for the defending champions.
A win will assure them of a quarterfinal seat, and they will also avoid being the first defending Philippine Cup champions to be kicked out in the elimination round in more than two decades. Ironically, Barangay Ginebra had been part of that history when they beat the 2000 All-Filipino Cup defending champion Shell Velocity in a knockout game for the final quarterfinals berth.
Inconsistent play has dampened the Gin Kings throughout the conference. They split their first four games of the eliminations at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City before winning just two of six games when the Philippine Cup resumed at the Don Honorio Ventura State University in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Injuries also added to Barangay Ginebra's woes as three of their starters are nursing some health issues. Japeth Aguilar suffered a sprained MCL and has not played since their last game while Scottie Thompson was relegated to the injury list as he is under health and safety protocols by the league, and Stanley Pringle is questionable for the crucial match as he has bone bruises on his knee.
Meanwhile, Meralco is already assured of a twice-to-beat advantage, but Coach Norman Black vows to have no let-up on their final game of the elimination round against the Gin Kings. They secured the incentive by beating sister-team NLEX yesterday, which means they have less than 24 hours to recover and prepare for the meeting with the defending champions.
"We have a little bit of a one-sided rivalry against Ginebra," said Black, whose team has lost to the Gin Kings in two Governors' Cup Finals and again in last season's All-Filipino Cup semifinals.
"All I can tell you is that we'll be there to win the basketball game, even if we've already qualified for the twice-to-beat. We'll be there to beat Ginebra tomorrow," Black stressed.
Expect no less than a battle as one team is in a dangerous situation of being eliminated while the other is hungry to avenge their previous playoff losses.