RISE OF THE KINGS

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THIS should rank among Barangay Ginebra’s biggest accomplishments.

The Kings refused to wilt under tremendous pressure and leaned on Vernon Macklin’s heroics in the endgame to eke out an 81-79 victory over Rain or Shine Monday and into not only the PBA Commissioner’s Cup semifinals but also the record books.

Macklin scored four straight points in the last 52.8 seconds, including two clutch charities, to cap Ginebra’s rise from a 76-79 deficit and the depths of a twice-to-win handicap in the quarterfinals duel.

The followup to a 90-83 victory in the series opener just last Saturday meant the seventh-seeded Kings will be meeting early qualifier Talk N Text in the best-of-five semifinals while they earned the distinction of becoming only the ninth team to turn the tables on a top-tier squad since the format was institutionalized in the 1996 Governors Cup.

“Ito ang pinakamalaking panalo ng Ginebra, considering kulang-kulang ang players at napakalakas ng kalaban,” said long-time San Miguel Corp. basketball operations chief and current league chairman Robert Non.

The loss is a very bitter one for Rain or Shine, which went into the series as the No. 2-ranked team, only to falter when it mattered most.

Case in point was the Elasto Painters’ failure to cash in on three attempts inside the final 6.2 seconds. Paul Lee missed a corner triple try and so did the followup from point blank-range by Jeff Chan and the ensuing tip by Gabe Norwood just before the final buzzer.

In the end, the predominantly pro-Ginebra crowd of almost 13,000 paying fans erupted into wild jubilation while most of the Rain or Shine players slumped or bowed their heads.

“Nagawa naman nila ang play nila, hindi lang nila na-i-shoot,” said Ginebra coach Alfrancis Chua.

The loss meant Rain or Shine officially finished the tourney at fifth place, while Ginebra tries to go as far north as it can to at least further improve on its sixth-place finish in the Philippine Cup.

Not only staying alive in the playoffs but going deeper is a far cry from what most expected when Ginebra started the conference by dropping its first four games.

“They underestimated us because pilay-pilay ang team pero di nila na-anticipate ang puso ng mga bata,” said Chua, who assumed the helm only last January.

“They forgot this is a never-say-die team,” he added.

Even the trials his team went through, like Mark Caguioa, Billy Mamaril and Rico Maierhofer not being able to play due to an assortment of injuries, also helped, according to Chua.

“Our confidence built up and that, I think, is one of the reasons we won this game,” said Chua.

Macklin typified it all with the capper to his 24-point, 16-rebound, six-assist night, displaying his grit the most after missing his two other tries from the stripe in the third quarter. As big was his putback that pegged the game’s 16th and last deadlock at 79, but the free throws were bigger.

“I know he can make it,” stressed Chua of Macklin, who went into the game shooting just 47 percent from the free throw line.  “Dating nag-mi-miss si Macklin. Pero I told Vernon: ‘I’ll stick with you. Miss if you miss, but I’ll stick with you.”

Chris Ellis and Kerby Raymundo also turned in double-doubles, combining for 26 points and 21 rebounds and helped atone for LA Tenorio’s two-point game on 1-for-12 field shooting. Tenorio had six rebounds and three assists, though.

Chris Tiu scored 15 points to pace Rain or Shine with Paul Lee adding 14 and four assists.

Once again in foul trouble as early as the second period, Bruno Sundov managed only 12 points, but his back-to-back three-pointers, followed by Chan’s own trey and Lee’s runner he kissed off the glass made it a 79-76 count, still 2:42 left. (NC)

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