By JONAS TERRADO
Barangay Ginebra San Miguel will have to win its final elimination round assignment or face the possibility of becoming the first defending champion of the PBA Philippine Cup to miss the quarterfinals in more than two decades.
A win over the Meralco Bolts sometime this week will give the Gin Kings a 5-6 record for either the seventh or eighth seed or a playoff match with the NorthPort Batang Pier for the last quarters berth based on eight of the 16 unofficial scenarios.
But going 4-7 with a loss to Meralco could be a disaster as six of the other scenarios will end Ginebra’s streak of 37 consecutive quarterfinal appearances.
The other scenario will put coach Tim Cone and the Gin Kings in a playoff for No. 8 against the Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters.
No defending champion of the season’s most important tournament has missed the playoffs since the 2000 All-Filipino Cup when Shell Velocity went 5-9 and lost to Ginebra in a knockout game for the final quarterfinals berth.
An injury sustained by 1999 Most Valuable Player Benjie Paras, the loss of Victor Pablo and Noy Castillo in trades to Mobiline and Purefoods plus a transition period that saw the arrival of young big man Mark Telan from Tanduay and the signing of rookie Tony dela Cruz affected Shell’s during that campaign.
The Gin Kings have been dealing with inconsistent play through the conference, splitting their first four games of the eliminations at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City before losing four of six when the Philippine Cup resumed at the Don Honorio Ventura State University in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Ginebra’s last game was a disappointment, falling to Alaska 89-75, with a frustrated Cone spending most of the second half handing the coaching reins to his assistants.
Meanwhile, Meralco controls its destiny for the second and last twice-to-beat advantage in the quarters even if it loses to Ginebra.
Meralco, currently in second at 7-2, needs only one victory to secure the quarterfinal bonus even if it ends up tied with Magnolia Pambansang Manok at 8-3.
That’s because the Bolts hold the tiebreaker over the Hotshots, thanks to their unbelievable comeback from 13 down to win 95-94 on Chris Newsome’s layup at the buzzer last Sept. 1.
Losing both games to the Gin Kings and the NLEX Road Warriors will send the Bolts to third and give the twice-to-beat to the Hotshots.
San Miguel Beer, which suffered a 100-90 loss to Magnolia, is sure of playing a best-of-three quarterfinal series allotted for teams ranked third to sixth. The Beermen, holding a 6-4 card, conclude the elims against the Alaska Aces.
Also sure of a best-of-three is Rain or Shine despite finishing at 6-5 following its 91-88 overtime loss to NorthPort even as 5-5 NLEX is all but assured of making the quarters either in a best-of-three or in a playoff depending on the remaining matches.
NorthPort, also at 5-5, can go as high as fourth or a playoff with Ginebra based on the result of its elims finale against Alaska, which holds a 3-6 record and can make the playoffs or take an early vacation with two games to play.
Alaska failed to make a stirring follow-up to its win over Ginebra with losses to top seed TNT and Terrafirma, which kept its slim chances alive with a 105-89 victory.
Terrafirma and Phoenix finished their campaigns at 4-7, and are now playing the waiting game to see if they’ll be given a chance to contest the No. 8 seed.
Four scenarios have put Terrafirma in a playoff for No. 8 with Phoenix, which could also face Ginebra in a similar knockout match for the last quarters spot.
But a Ginebra win will eliminate both teams from the quarters, which is why both Terrafirma and Phoenix are pinning their hopes on Meralco to extend their campaigns.