Helterbrand, Caguioa provide another moment to last a lifetime
MANILA, Philippines –When Jayjay Helterbrand entered the game to open the fourth quarter of Game 4 on Friday, October 14, there was immediately a feeling that something special might be brewing. And why the hell not?
The theme of this PBA Finals, between two great teams led by outstanding coaches and players, has been to expect the unexpected. Each game has gone down to the wire, with both the Bolts and Barangay Ginebra trading haymakers, unwilling to concede a knockout. Ginebra was up by 11 at the half? Oh, that’s cute. Meralco goes up by 16 after 3 periods? Yeah, that wasn’t going to last very long.
Both teams have so much pride and so much fight. Imports whose talents clearly are above the rest of the field. Veteran shot-makers who come through when needed most. Superb rookies who will make headlines in the PBA for years to come. The crowd support? Exactly what a struggling 41-year-old league needed to entice the country once again.
But until Game 4, there was something missing. Sure, Helterbrand wasn’t getting many minutes, and Mark Caguioa saw his diminishing. But there was always that thought at the back of your head, knowing that in time, the duo would perform what they’ve done so many other times throughout their distinguished careers: save the day for Barangay Ginebra and create another moment to last a lifetime.
There was 11:47 left in the game, and it felt like do or die for the most popular team in the PBA. Helterbrand pulled up, swish. 14 seconds later, Caguioa’s defensive effort led to a steal. Less than a minute later, Helterbrand hit a 3-pointer, bam. The Meralco lead was down to 9. The boisterous Ginebra crowd, which made up most of the 17,878 in attendance, was suddenly alive once again. The game was there for the taking
“We were just doing nothing. Jay got out there and just played with so much energy and Mark played with so much energy,” said Tim Cone after the contest. The man who’s won 18 championships is very self-aware, and he knew that in that game, Norman Black had been out-coaching him.
The Bolts were using their size and length to create havoc on defense: undeterred rim protection and a turnover-creating machine. Each stop or steal paved the way for an easy transition opportunity, leading to guys like Chris Newsome and Cliff Hodge to suck the life out of Ginebra with highlight dunks. The momentum absolutely shifted, giving the Bolts a chance to put a chokehold on the series.
“I don’t feel like I really did anything but mess up. But they’re great players. They make up for lousy coaching. They came out and did some really great things. Pretty much saved our series.”
That they did.
Helterbrand and Caguioa hit a few more jumpers, grabbed a few more rebounds, provided the spark needed by their team facing a disastrous 3-1 series deficit. Everything was on the line, and once again, The Fast and the Furious saved the day.
“I’m kind of in shock, to be honest with you,” Cone said post-game. In his own words, it felt like a storybook ending, because it was.
On Friday, Helterbrand turned 40-years-old. In Cone’s words, he looks 26 and plays with the heart of a young man, but truth be told, the former PBA MVP is so much closer to retirement than he is to the prime of his basketball career. Who knows, this series may even be the last time he puts on that Ginebra uniform.
“I don’t even know what happened, really,” Helterbrand said post-game with the savvy of a veteran who’s been through so many wars on that Araneta Coliseum hardwood.
“It’s just one game, but if we win a championship then it will be special,” he later said about his performance. “But as long as we don’t get that in the end, this game is really not going to mean that much.”
It’s understandable why Helterbrand thinks that way. You don’t go through so many seasons of blood, sweat, and tears and have the expectation of just putting up great individual numbers. At this point of his career, Helterbrand wants to go out with a bang, and nothing short of a championship - what would be Ginebra’s first in nearly 10 long years - is acceptable.
But to the fans of the Gin Kings, win or lose in this series, they will always have that memory of Friday night.
They will forever remember Helterbrand, who has played more in Ginebra practices than actual games recently, fighting through the limits of his body to pull his team from what seemed like defeat. They will always remember Caguioa unwilling to back down against the bigger and more athletic Bolts while battling for rebounds. They will always remember that 3-pointer Helterbrand hit with 5:42 left to put Ginebra ahead 79-76, opening the door for the younger stars to seal the deal.
When all seemed bleak, Barangay Ginebra fans needed a hero, and familiar faces answered the call.
“I don’t play a lot of minutes, so it’s different when you’re in practice and a real game,” said Helterbrand. “The intensity is different, the speed is different, so as you can see, I’m not in that good of game shape, but I felt good, I didn’t feel any pain whatsoever in my body.
“Maybe later when I get home or tomorrow morning, then it’ll hit me,” he added with a laugh. “But during the game, I felt alright.”
Neither of the two put the finishing touches on the game - Joe Devance did, with a tough turnaround in the post for the final basket of the contest. But, make no mistake about it, there would be no chance for Devance to even be in that position without the two veterans and their efforts. Never in this entire PBA season has a combined 19 points between two players felt more impactful.
“They just had no fear, no fear out there… it was really fun to watch. Glad to be a part of that kind of game,” Cone tried to put it into words.
With 4:33 left in the game and Ginebra already ahead by 3, Helterbrand bent down during a stoppage in play, put both hands on his knees, and looked like he was panting. He said later on that he wasn’t exhausted during the heat of the moment, but at that scenario, he looked like a man whose mind and body was telling him he was tired, although his spirit - Never say die spirit - was telling him he needed to go on some more.
After all, this classic of a finals series is the last ride for the most iconic duo in the franchise history: “ride or die,” Caguioa said before Game 1.
Ride or die indeed. – Rappler.com