Stars from Barangay Ginebra and Bay Area during the 2022 PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finlas press conference. PBA IMAGES

Barangay Ginebra will no longer be just the most popular team in the Philippines. It is now the team of the Philippines.

And it is a responsibility that is not lost on coach Tim Cone as he prepares the Kings for their PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals battle against the visiting Bay Area Dragons.

“We’re playing more than just ourselves, we’re playing more than just Ginebra,” Cone said Friday when the two teams met in a pre-Finals press conference at Novotel Manila in Cubao, Quezon City.

“We’re playing for the league, and we’re playing for the country. It’s almost like we’re the national team—which is cool,” added the PBA’s winningest mentor, who will try to outwit his Bay Area counterpart Brian Goorjian, one of the world’s best tacticians.

It’s the same battlecry that other teams had during the course of the midseason conference which saw Bay Area proving that it didn’t come to Manila just to be a mere participant.

Bay Area has one final hurdle in its quest to become the second foreign team to lift a PBA trophy. And the Dragons cannot find a more apt hurdle than Ginebra, one of the country’s premier teams and arguably its most successful in recent times.

That is why Cone and the Gin Kings, despite being used to being on the grandest stage each year since 2016, see this as an experience that is something rare.

“To me, this is one of a kind,” he said. “We’ve done this before, but not like this.”

Under Cone, Ginebra won six championships, five with Justin Brownlee, who has never lost a Finals series.

Sweetest feat

A win would make it six out of six, and fulfilling that perfect batting average may be the sweetest feat in what is already a legendary career for the soon-to-be Gilas Pilipinas naturalized player.

“I think it’s probably the biggest challenge we’ve faced in the Finals, with their versatility, their size,” he said. “In the past, when we play a PBA team, we are familiar. But with them, we are less familiar. But I’m sure as the series goes on, we will figure things out.”

Ginebra, though, not only has a bit of familiarity, it also holds bragging rights after a 111-93 win ended Bay Area’s 4-0 start to the tournament in October.

But the Dragons are no longer a team which at that time relied too heavily on the import, with Kobey Lam, Glen Yang, Hayden Blankley, Zhu Songwei and 7-foot-5 Liu Chuanxing among the names that could present a lot of trouble for the Gin Kings.

Then there’s import Andrew Nicholson, who could likely give Ginebra’s big guys Christian Standhardinger and Japeth Aguilar some problems with his non-flashy offensive skills and ability to control the paint.

That’s why a repeat scoreline is a pipe dream as anticipation for the opener set for Christmas Day at Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City continues to build amid the holiday rush.

“For one night, we played extremely well. It would be nice to do it every night [but] we know we’re not gonna be,” said Cone.

“It’s gonna be a battle.”

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