It’s going to be a win-or-go-home scenario when Barangay Ginebra San Miguel and Phoenix dispute the last quarterfinal berth in a playoff battle of the 46th Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Philippine Cup on Saturday at the Don Honorio Ventura State University (DHVSU) Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Game time is at 4:35 p.m. with the survivor punching the last quarterfinal ticket and gaining the right to challenge topseed TNT Tropang Giga, which is armed with a twice-to-beat advantage.
Also clinching a twice-to-beat edge in the quarterfinals is second seed Meralco, which will face seventh seed NLEX, while third seed Magnolia will battle sixth seed Rain or Shine, and fourth seed Meralco will face fifth seed NorthPort in a best-of-three showdown of the playoffs.
But all eyes will be on Ginebra, which is struggling to keep its head above water barely a year after winning the title of this all-Filipino tournament.
Despite tapping Filipino-German banger Christian Standhardinger, it’s been a rollercoaster ride for Ginebra as it lost stars Japeth Aguilar and Scottie Thompson to injuries en route to posting a 4-7 win-loss record.
The 6-foot-9 Aguilar has been sidelined for a few weeks due to a medial collateral ligament sprain, while Thompson left the bubble due to health and safety protocols.
Fortunately for the Kings, they were given a lifesaver after NorthPort beat a quarterfinal pursuer in Alaska, 122-94, in the final day of eliminations late Thursday to keep its flickering title hopes alive.
Ginebra coach Tim Cone said they are now in desperate position to make one final push and not waste their final chance to stay inside the bubble and keep their title-retention bid alive.
“We have been given an unexpected reprieve, so we want to do our best and take advantage of it,” Cone, who will bank on their remaining gunners LA Tenorio, Stanley Pringle and Standhardinger to lead their offense, said.
“The guys know the road is tough, and has been tough, but it starts with one step. That step starts tomorrow with our game against Phoenix.”
Against The Fuel Masters, the Kings enjoy a slight edge following a come-from-behind 94-87 win in their eliminations meeting on 15 September.
In that game, the Kings crawled back from a 19-point deficit with Pringle erupting for 31 points and Tenorio adding 23 markers to spearhead the attack. Standhardinger was also impressive, chipping in a solid double-double performance of 21 points and 12 rebounds.
But this time, the battle will not be easy, especially with their season on the line.
Phoenix coach Topex Robinson said they will go all out to catch the last bus headed for the playoffs.
In fact, they will march in full force with a loaded roster led by main gunners Matthew Wright, Vic Manuel and the frontcourt tandem of Jason Perkins and Justin Chua.
“The No. 8 spot won’t be given to us. We have to earn it,” Robinson said.