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Tim Cone slays 'ghost of 2002' with Finals Game 1 win on Christmas night 2022

Coach Tim Cone finally got his retribution 20 years after his first Christmas loss, which turned out to be a finals elimination game for him. PBA Images
By Ivan Saldajeno

PASAY—Coach Tim Cone was involved in the very first game the PBA held on Christmas Day, which also happens to be the only finals game held on Dec. 25 prior to Sunday night.

The longtime Alaska coach was looking to save his team's season against Coca-Cola in Game 4 of the 2002 Philippine Cup Finals.

However, behind Rafi Reavis' big third quarter, the Tigers, coached by Chot Reyes, clawed the Aces, 78-63, to win their first PBA title since taking over the Pop Cola franchise—or actually since the San Miguel Corporation, who owned Coke's Philippine franchise then, bought Cosmos Bottling from RFM.

Cone, now with Ginebra, had all the reasons to forget that painful Christmas night loss since Alaska took Game 1 of the best-of-five series only for Coke to win the next three games.

"It was really devastating. I have to admit I'm already depressed thinking about it," said Cone, who is now part of Reyes' coaching staff with Gilas Pilipinas.

Cone thinks playing on Dec. 25 holds much pressure, all the more if it's part of a championship series.

"Playing on Christmas Day is a little overwhelming, honestly, and playing in the finals is always a little overwhelming. So if you have the two together, it makes for a lot of anxiety coming into a game like this," he further said.

Fast forward to the present, the Gin Kings somehow had their backs against the wall as many tagged the Bay Area Dragons as favorites to win the PBA Commissioner's Cup title.

However, anchored by a 15-0 run late in the second quarter, Ginebra shut down Bay Area and took Game 1 of the 2022-23 Commissioner's Cup Finals in front of 18,252 fans at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.

"It is a special moment and time people are either coming with their families or from their thing to watch us. I think that's what makes it extra special, and that's the way we treated it," Cone described the Gin Kings' approach to the game. "We wanted to set the tone, and I thought we did that today, so I'm real proud of our guys for getting over all the distractions."

However, he is also aware that it was just Game 1 of a best-of-seven series and the Dragons have a chance to quickly bounce back with Game 2 coming on Wednesday night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, all the more that he has already experienced losing a finals series despite winning the opener.

"Obviously, today's game doesn't win us a championship and lose a championship for Bay Area," Cone further said.

But for him, the Christmas night win not just vindicated him from his Christmas 2002 loss but also put the Gin Kings in a good position early into the finals.

"The bottom line is we got the first step forward, so that was the crucial part," Cone continued.

Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno

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