Sun. Jun 4th, 2023

Jojo Lastimosa (left) and Tim Cone have won several championships together with Alaska.  —AUGUST DELA CRUZ

Jojo Lastimosa (left) and Tim Cone have won several championships together with Alaska. —AUGUST DELA CRUZ

Jojo Lastimosa was still enjoying his lunch before the pre-Finals press conference of the PBA Governors’ Cup got underway on Monday when an influential figure from his past walked by to say hello.

“That’s a familiar voice,” said Barangay Ginebra coach Tim Cone, poking fun at his TNT counterpart’s habit of talking with food on his mouth before shaking hands with him inside Novotel Manila in Cubao, Quezon City.

Lastimosa responded with a hearty laugh, showing the level of comfort the two had built in all those years when they were collecting multiple championships for Alaska and turning the franchise into one of the league’s iconic teams in the 1990s.

“We see each other in Tali Beach (in Nasugbu, Batangas),” Cone later said after the event, prompting Lastimosa to once again laugh as loud at the inside joke.

“He lives in the North (of Metro Manila), I live in the South, so it’s not like we connect all the time. But when we do, there’s a level of comfort that you could be away for a long time, and when we see each other, it’s like getting right back at it again,” he added.

This time, Cone and Lastimosa will have to chase the championship as opponents, with Ginebra seeking a third successive title in the season-ending conference and TNT looking to play party poopers in the series that starts on Easter Sunday.

‘Coming home’

The mentor-against-student angle is among the subplots of a series that could go either way, with TNT topping the eliminations and Ginebra back for another crack at glory.

“It’s like coming home,” said Lastimosa. “I’m always comfortable around Tim and there’s no animosity between the two of us. I’m just so excited to be on the same court with Tim, and I have so much respect for him because he has done so much for the game.”

“I’m just here to learn, and as the series goes on, I know he’s a genius at that. So we will see how it goes,” he added.

Lastimosa, tasked to handle the TNT role with coach Chot Reyes opting to put most of his focus on the Gilas Pilipinas program for the Fiba (International Basketball Federation) World Cup, steered TNT to 10 wins in 11 elimination round games before shepherding the Tropang Giga to playoff victories over Phoenix and Meralco.

One of TNT’s wins leading up to this point was at Ginebra’s expense, where the Tropang Giga erased a double-digit deficit to put together a 114-105 win last March 17 at PhilSports Arena in Pasig City.

Cone and the Gin Kings will hope to make a big response during the series and keep their dominant reign in the season-ending conference intact.

Few surprises

“Every win, if we do, is gonna be bittersweet,” Cone said. “But we both got jobs to do, and we’re gonna do it to the best of our abilities. There’s gonna be respect, I think, on both sides of the floor, but there’s gonna be intense, intense competition.

“His organization is really hungry for a win, and we know that; we understand that [because] they played like that all conference long. And there’s no doubt that there’s [also] a lot of hunger in our team.

“I think once you taste it, you want more of it. Our guys are ready to go, and I’m 100 percent sure their guys are ready to go, too,” added Cone.

Lastimosa believes there will be few surprises once TNT and Ginebra square off for the crown.

“Even before I was here, we had conversations with Tim about the system. Sometimes he takes out the Triangle [Offense], sometimes he takes it back in, sometimes he tweaks it,” Lastimosa said. “So for me, there’s no secret here.”

That is unless Cone brings out something that Lastimosa hasn’t seen before. INQ

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By cb2gp