By Ignacius Carell Cruz

There is a reason why all teams in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) face Barangay Ginebra San Miguel to their highest level of play until the final buzzer. Their bitter rivals, Magnolia Timplados Hotshots, were reminded of it in the most painful way.

Photo Courtesy of PBA

Reigning Most Valuable Player Scottie Thompson scored nine of his 14 points in the pay-off period to give Ginebra its first victory in Manila Clasico after three years, 103-97, inside the Mall of Asia Arena, Sunday.

Ginebra’s resident import Justin Brownlee added a game-high 26 markers, 12 assists, and five blocks including a crucial rejection on Magnolia’s reinforcement Nicholas Rakocevic with 23 seconds left in the game to protect the Gin King’s two-point lead and ultimately secure the win with cold-blooded free throws.

After being in the driver’s seat for over forty minutes, the league-leading Magnolia ran out of steam in the regulation period where they surrendered a ten-point lead to their archrivals, Ginebra, who started the fourth with their fast-paced offense and relentless team effort on both sides of the floor.

Paul Lee led the scoring for Magnolia with 22 points, including six three-pointers followed by Rakocevic’s 21 markers and 17 boards who got to experience his first Manila Clasico.

The Hotshots started the game with booming triples led by Lee who tallied 15 pts in the opening half of play, all coming from beyond the white line as Magnolia established an early 22-12 lead.

Barangay Ginebra then launched a comeback which cut Magnolia’s lead to just two, 24-22, early in the second period but Jerrick Ahanmisi’s triples and Ian Sangalang’s dominant game inside the paint widened the margin, 53-41, going into the halftime break.

The story remained the same in the third frame for Magnolia as they enjoyed as much as a 15-point lead where the Serbian Rakocevic thrived under the basket and created enough space for the shooters of his team to go into the regulation period with a comfortable ten-point margin, 83-73.

Things immediately went south for the Hotshots in the pay-off period where the Never Say Die spirit of Ginebra came alive led by Thompson’s patented rebounds and assists and Jamie Malonzo’s thunderous dunks who garnered 14 rebounds and tallied 18 points on an efficient 89% shooting.

Ginebra finally got a taste of the lead after Thompson’s lay-up, followed by Malonzo’s drive to the lane to give the PBA’s most popular team a four-point lead, 97-93, with just over five minutes left to play.

Magnolia was able to tie the game at 97-all before Brownlee’s signature step-back jumper on the right wing over the foul-ridden Rome Dela Rosa which gave Ginebra a two-point cushion with just a minute remaining on the game clock.

The Hotshots had another chance to send the game to overtime but Brownlee’s timely denial on the 6’10” reinforcement of Magnolia and Rakocevic’s deliberate foul on Ginebra’s decorated import with just over 20 seconds left in the regulation period completely shut off the door on them.

This was the first loss of Magnolia to Ginebra since the 2019 PBA Commissioner’s Cup and its first defeat in this conference, ultimately surrendering the lead to the Bay Area Dragons with a 6-1 record who was also clobbered by the Gin Kings two weeks prior.

After the game, the winningest coach in PBA history, Coach Tim Cone, had some high praise for Thompson who became Ginebra’s leader in the final quarter as Ginebra turned another disappointing game into a well-deserved victory.

It was Jaworksi-like. As I was watching Scottie with all those rebounds, and lay-ups, I felt like I was watching Sonny Jaworksi. This game was a tribute to Sonny who always brought back his team to the game like what Scottie did tonight,” said Cone.

On the other hand, Cone, who is known for his tactical substitutions, was quick to add how they decided on inserting Nards Pinto in the regulation period who had a game-high +/- 24.

“He earned his minutes tonight. Nards was a good match-up to Jio, and Paul Lee in the past. He has the same toughness and physicality as those two and was a good match-up, both offensively, and defensively,” according to Cone.

Despite the win, this is a night Ginebra would want to forget as they tallied 24 turnovers as a team, highlighted by Christian Standhardinger’s six.

Meanwhile, Magnolia had mental lapses of their own as they accumulated 24 fouls led by Abueva’s five, Lee and Barroca’s four and Dela Rosa’s three which killed the momentum of the team all throughout.

Ginebra will look to boost their standings this coming Friday against Terrafirma Dyip while Magnolia will try to bounce back against Rain or Shine Elasto Painters on Saturday.

Edited by Quian Vencel Galut