Hindsight, they say, is 20/20. Unfortunately for Jackson Vroman, Barangay Ginebra fans will be speculating for a long time whether he should have taken a shot instead of passing off on two different occasions late in the Kings' 83-77 loss to B-Meg last night that gave the Llamados a commanding 2-0 lead in their best-of-five series.
The scenario: PJ Simon had scored four in a row to give the Llamados a 79-75 lead with less than a minute left. On the next play, Vroman had a wide open lane to the basket with only the five-eleven Simon offering any form of resistance. Yet instead of laying it in, the naturalized Lebanese chose pass it off to Nino Canaleta, whose three-point attempt from the corner was off.
The Kings forced a Simon miss on the other end, and Jay-Jay Helterbrand rushed downcourt and spotted an open Vroman under the basket. The Ginebra import didn't go back down on defense because of cramps, and as a result B-Meg failed to cover him. Vroman caught the pass and could have simply turned around and laid it in, but he opted to touch-pass the ball to Dylan Ababou, who was promptly blocked by Pingris.
Perhaps Vroman was afraid of getting fouled and taking free throws, since he is a such a notoriously poor free throw shooter that opposing teams routinely employ a Hack-a-Jack strategy whenever possible.
Whatever it was, the game was essentially over after that Pingris block with Simon sinking two free throws on the other end.
Of course, even if Vroman had made at least one of those shots, that still wouldn't have guaranteed a Ginebra victory. But it would have at least changed the complexion of the last few possessions, and given the Kings a better chance of tying up the series.
Instead, the Llamados are now just one win away from their first finals appearance since bagging the 2009-10 Philippine Cup title. Coach Tim Cone, though, refused to say that the series was virtually over.
"Are you kidding me? Do I think it's over?" was his answer when asked about it. "I told the players that it takes a special effort to get up 2-0 and there's a reason for that. It's gonna take a lot of calmness living through mistakes, living through bad calls and keep moving forward. This team has toughened up and they come up strong when they get behind."
For a while, B-Meg was having a case of déjà vu, as Canaleta, whose scoring outburst in the B-Meg-Ginebra playoff won it for the Kings, got hot again with 19 points, including three free throws that tied it up at 75 with 2:49 remaining. But he missed a forced triple attempt with 1:15 left and fouled Simon afterwards which resulted in those two free throws that made it 79-75.
"KG came out and provided the spark," Cone said. "He got some nice 3's and the crowd got into it. We recognized it and not let him get going."
After averaging 90.6 points a game in the eliminations and the one-game playoff, the Kings have been held to just 72 points in the semifinals. They have struggled without the 16-point average of the injured Mark Caguioa, while Vroman has been averaging just 10 after norming over 21 a game in the elimination round.
B-Meg goes for the series sweep on Sunday, but Cone knows it won't be easy. "To get up 3-0 takes a special effort times two. We'll go for it, obviously."
But the Kings can look back to the 2009-10 Philippine Cup semifinals for inspiration, when they rallied from a similar 0-2 hole to beat Talk 'N Text.
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