By Nelson Beltran (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 27, 2016 - 12:00am
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MANILA, Philippines - For all his wondrous shooting touch, behemoth Japeth Aguilar is actually being developed to be Barangay Ginebra’s pillar of defense.
But Sunday night at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan, Aguilar lit up the showdown with Star with tremendous offensive thrust, going 5-of-5 from the long range and finishing with a career-best 32 points as the Gin Kings toppled the Hotshots, 86-79, in the PBA Philippine Cup.
“I was surprised my offense came along. To be honest, I was focused on defense as I was instructed by coach Tim (Cone),” said Aguilar.
“One of those moments in my basketball career that I never expected to happen – five out of five from the three-point line,” he added.
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But Ginebra coach Tim Cone insisted he wasn’t a bit surprised by Aguilar’s three-point shooting, saying they’ve long been urging their athletic center to take the shots from the long range.
“If you remember, I coached his dad Peter. And Peter was like the best shooting big man I’ve ever seen. So when I first saw Japeth, he looked exactly the same, same form, everything,” said Cone. “Japeth has great form and great ability to be that kind of player that can shoot shots like that. So I’m not surprised by it. Hopefully, we don’t live by it, but that is a nice weapon to keep.”
The win kept Ginebra inside the Top Eight halfway through the single-round-robin elims.
Through his first six PBA seasons, Aguilar attempted 95 times from beyond the arc, making 23 for a mere 24-percent clip.
In the latest edition of the Manila Clasico, Aguilar drained five triples as they seized control in the third period then subsequently pulled through to tie Star, Alaska Milk and Phoenix Petroleum at sixth place at 3-3.
“It’s surely special. One day, I would look back to this game and say that I was part of this game, one of the greatest rivalries in the PBA,” he said.
Joe Devance and Scottie Thompson provided help with 17 points and 17 rebounds, respectively, as Ginebra stopped Star’s three-game streak and thus foiled the Hotshots’ bid at catching up with Rain or Shine and TNT KaTropa at second place at 4-2.
But the Kings took a while to hurdle the Hotshots with solid games dished out by Paul Lee, Marc Pingris and Allein Maliksi.
“It was tough because Star’s been playing extremely well. Paul is really something,” said Cone.
But there’s no denying Ginebra and their fanatics of a merry Christmas in the end.
“I’ve been to Staples Center (home of the LA Lakers). I’ve never seen something like this. It was fun. It was amazing,” said Cone.
With Ginebra barely ahead midway through the fourth, Aguilar unleashed a crucial seven-point binge, including a booming trey, giving them a 75-69 lead entering the homestretch.
In the final minute, he grabbed big defensive rebounds then nailed two charities to personally clinch the win.