By Jonas Terrado
(Smart Araneta Coliseum)
7 p.m. – San Miguel vs Ginebra
Defending champion San Miguel Beer and crowd-favorite Barangay Ginebra look to draw first blood and set the tone for a series that could possibly go the distance tonight in the start of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Both teams are out to continue their winning ways in the opening game of the best-of-seven series set at 7 p.m. after facing the prospect of suffering early exits after starting the midseason conference with losing records.
Ginebra had to recover from a 1-5 start with 10 wins in the next 11 matches to reach the finals while San Miguel responded from a 0-3 record and inconsistency throughout the eliminations to lose just one game in the playoffs.
The San Miguel Corporation-owned ballclubs seem to have no distinct advantage as they will troop to the floor boasting some of the PBA’s best talents.
“I’m not sure if there’s an edge but I think the team that prepares well and go out there and really play well is gonna take Game 1,” said Ginebra, who is gunning for his 21st title in his 32nd finals appearance.
Cone’s quest to tighten his hold on the status as the PBA’s winningest coach is one of many subplots in the title series.
San Miguel’s Renaldo Balkman and Ginebra’s Justin Brownlee will now chase their second title in almost three months as opponents after joining forces to lead Alab Pilipinas to the ASEAN Basketball League crown in early-May.
“I guess it’s a little weird from being teammates of couple months ago, he’s on the other side now,” Brownlee said.
“We’ll always be brothers, but it’s gonna be a fight to the end and we’re gonna give everybody a good show,” said Balkman.
Reigning four-time Most Valuable Player and likely Best Player of the Conference winner June Mar Fajardo locks horns with old rival Greg Slaughter for the first time in the finals, the two teams looking to capitalize on having the two gentle giants on their rosters.
Austria tries to once again lean on his battle-tested crew of Arwind Santos, Chris Ross, Marcio Lassiter and Alex Cabagnot while looking to get more from rookie Christian Standhardinger and late addition Kelly Nabong.
But Ginebra is expected to easy counter San Miguel’s depth with LA Tenorio, Japeth Aguilar, Scottie Thompson, Joe Devance, Sol Mercado and mid-tournament acquisition Jeff Chan, who Cone sees as a key factor in the finals.
“They’re like a well-oiled machine,” Austria said of Ginebra. “After their 1-5 start in the eliminations, they lost only once. I think that’s a big morale booster for their team.”