If an MVP award is to be handed out in the Barangay Ginebra-Star semifinals series, Sol Mercado and Jervy Cruz would be sharing the plum on Tuesday night.
Mercado and Cruz were instrumental in helping the Gin Kings overcome a 0-2 series hole and outlast the Hotshots in Game 7 and their huge efforts certainly didn’t go unnoticed.
“I thought the MVP of the series, if we could choose one, would have been Jervy Cruz,” Cone told reporters after Ginebra topped Star, 89-76.
“He was the guy who stepped up for us in Joe’s absence, and sharing the time with Joe in the last couple of games,” added Cone, referring to forward Joe Devance, who missed Games 1 and 2 and had to play the last five games with plantar fasciitis on his left foot. “He was the key guy, in my mind so it was a real team effort. As a coach, you really enjoy it when everybody contributes.”
Cruz, a one-time UAAP champion and UAAP MVP out of University of Santo Tomas, had his moments in the series none brighter than his Game 4 outing where he finished with 21 points.
Cone also had high praise for Mercado, who shone on both ends of the floor.
“That was our target, basically. Paul was No. 1, Ping and Maliksi, those are the three guys that we wanna target defensively. The job that Sol was able to do one-on-one kept us in our defensive game plan,” Cone said. “He was definitely the impact guy on defense.”
Lee was unstoppable in the clutch in Games 1 and 2, but he was reduced to a mere pedestrian for the remainder of the series with Mercado as his primary stopper.
READ: Paul Lee attributes Game 3 struggles to Ginebra defense
“That was our target, basically, Paul was No. 1, Ping and Maliksi, those are the three guys that we wanna target defensively. The job that Sol was able to do one-on-one kept us in our defensive game plan,” Cone said. “He was definitely the impact guy on defense.”
Lee averaged 17.5 points per game in the first two games of the series but he never hit double-digits again.
In fact in Game 7, Lee had his worst game in the semis with only four points on 2-of-8 shooting from the field.
Mercado, however, didn’t want to bask in the glory alone.
“I’ve been saying it all series, it’s not me. I’m just the guy in the front and it’s a total team effort. We really focused on Paul because he’s the key to their team so it was definitely a group effort,” he said.
“Whenever I was in the front on him off a ball screen, we always had a guy eyeing him and everyone collapsing on him making him a passer. He’s such a great scorer. So yeah, it wasn’t me.”
The 32-year-old Mercado, who has bounced around from one team to another before finding a home with Ginebra, put the cherry on top of what has been a superb semis showing in Game 7.
He led all scorers with 23 points on 4-of-6 shooting from downtown and had four rebounds and five assists.
“He has ability to get to the rim and hit a bunch of 3-pointers. He did that in the finals last conference too and he’s a big moment player and without a doubt if you put the numbers up he was our MVP.”
The explosive guard also gave the spotlight to Cone as the reason for his success.
“Coach Tim puts a lot of trust in me to be one of the leaders of this team and I’m just grateful for the opportunity he’s given me every game to be on the court and the confidence and the trust that he puts in me, it goes a long way,” Mercado said. “When you have the winningest coach in the PBA puts a lot of trust in you, it gives you a lot of confidence to play.”