Paul Lee buried a floater late in the game to deliver Star to a 78-74 victory over Barangay Ginebra Thursday night in Game 1 of their PBA Philippine Cup semifinals series at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Lee spun past two Ginebra’s defender to ice the final score and Star’s defense held on from there as the Hotshots took a 1-0 lead in their race-to-four showdown against the Kings.
“It’s all about team effort and team defense,” said Star coach Chito Victolero, whose wards notched their sixth straight win overall in the tournament. “But we needed that mental toughness to win this game.”
Ginebra shoots for a 2-0 lead in Game 2 Saturday at Mall of Asia Arena.
“You cannot out-coach [Ginebra] coach Tim [Cone], but I told my players that they have to help me. I’m very happy because we got [Game 1], but we have so much respect for coach Tim that we know we have to work harder. It’s a good start for us, but we can’t celebrate because it’s only Game 1,”
Victolero also praised veteran Marc Pingris, who held his own defensively against the Kings.
“Paul Lee and Marc Pingris, both of them have big hearts,” Victolero said.
Pingris, undoubtedly the heart and soul of Star, did it all as he finished with nine points, 12 rebounds, five assists, three steals, and three blocks, including huge stops in the final minute as he contested Japeth Aguilar’s jumper and came up with the game-sealing rebound.
Mark Barroca, meanwhile, unloaded 17 markers, four boards, and two dimes.
Star broke off from a 71-all deadlock in the final 4:28 and forced Ginebra to commit numerous turnovers in the clutch, none bigger than LA Tenorio losing the ball with 15.7 ticks to play.
The Gin Kings turned the ball over 24 times, which led to 18 points for Star.
The win is the Star’s seventh straight but it paled in comparison to the team’s dominant stretch, where the Hotshots beat their last six opponents by an average margin of 27.0 points.
The Hotshots had to fight back from a 10-point deficit, 35-25, with 7:02 remaining in the second quarter, before clamping down on defense and zeroing-in on the Gin Kings’ perimeter game to cut the lead to just one, 38-37, at halftime.
Chris Ellis led Ginebra with 12 points on a surprising 3-of-4 shooting from three, while Tenorio and Jervy Cruz got 10 markers each.
Japeth Aguilar was limited to just 11 points and six rebounds after pouring a career-high 32 points in the two team’s Christmas Day duel.
STAR 78 – Lee 18, Barroca 17, Pingris 9, Sangalang 8, Maliksi 7, Jalalon 6, Reavis 5, Melton 5, Dela Rosa 2, Ramos 1, Brondial 0.
GINEBRA 74 – Ellis 12, Aguilar 11, Cruz 10, Mercado 10, Tenorio 8, Thompson 7, Ferrer 7, Marcelo 5, Mariano 4.
Quarters: 19-14, 38-37, 60-58, 78-74.