ROUT MARKS RETURN OF THE KINGS
MANILA, July 8, 2004 (STAR) By Nelson Beltran - The Ginebra Kings returned to the throne after an exile of seven years in smashing fashion in Game Four, routing Red Bull Barako, 103-86, at the jampacked Araneta Coliseum last night.
Just like in Game Three Sunday, the Kings outplayed the Thunder in the second quarter onwards, completing a three-game-to-one win in the best-of-five Gran Matador PBA Fiesta Conference finals before more than 16,000 flag-waving fans.
The predominantly Ginebra crowd at the Big Dome rocked and rolled under pouring confetti and multi-colored balloons as the Kings celebrated their first championship since the 1997 All-Filipino Conference.
It was the ballclubís first crown in the post-Robert Jaworski era and fifth overall.
"Our hard work paid off," said Ginebra coach Siot Tanquingcen, joining an elite list of PBA mentors who won a championship in their rookie year in the league.
"I feel great. Itís been an up-and-down ride for us but weíve been through the long road. Iím happy Iím here," said Ginebra ace Eric Menk, named Finals MVP. He earlier won the Best Player of the Conference honors and got one of the highest number of votes for the coming PBA All-Star Game.
Incidentally, it was Menkís first title since joining the league in 1999 while import Torraye Braggs, itís his first crown since college days.
Braggs came up with a near triple-double performance with 22 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists, Mark Caguioa also had solid all-round game with 26 points, eight rebounds and seven assists while Menk added 20 points, six rebounds and three assists to lead the Ginebra onslaught last night.
Caguioa returned from the halftime break with guns ablaze, rifling in 15 points in the third quarter as the Kings broke loose from a close encounter.
The Kings poured on the heat in the last quarter and led by as many as 20, 98-78, before completing the rout.
It was an amazing championship for the Kings with the team being the lowest seed to make it to the Final Four. Ginebra duplicated the feat made by San Miguel in the 2000 Governors Cup, winning the championship despite being ranked No. 6 after the eliminations.
Ginebra also gained the distinction as the first team to hand Red Bull Barako its first defeat in the PBA Finals. The Thunder were successful in their previous two stints in a title playoff.
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
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