By JONAS TERRADO
Magnolia Pambansang Manok and TNT look to set the tempo for what could be a grueling title showdown as the PBA Philippine Cup Finals starts Wednesday at the Don Honorio Ventura State University in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Fresh from hard-fought wins in the semifinals, the Hotshots and Tropang Giga square off at 6 p.m. as the best-of-seven series may witness a carbon copy of their two previous meetings in the PBA’s biggest stage.
The Purefoods franchise won both times over TNT, famously taking the 2012 Commissioner’s Cup crown under the B-Meg banner after import Denzel Bowles sent the deciding Game 7 in overtime with two pressure-packed free throws off a disputed foul from Kelly Williams.
Their second meeting in the same conference in 2014 saw San Mig Super Coffee, one of Magnolia’s former names, claim the second jewel of the Grand Slam with a 3-1 series win over TNT, which fell short after an unbeaten run through the eliminations and the playoffs.
Magnolia will try to make it three in a row over TNT after an impressive campaign sparked by new addition Calvin Abueva while seeing Ian Sangalang, his closest rival for the Best Player of the Conference award, peaking at the right time.
But TNT also had a splendid campaign, topping the eliminations with a 10-1 record before prevailing over Magnolia’s sister teams Barangay Ginebra and San Miguel Beer in the playoffs behind several players that have flourished under coach Chot Reyes.
Reyes, who steered the Tropang Giga to the finals in his first conference, will be in for an intriguing coaching duel with the Hotshots mentor Chito Victolero, who has become one of the league’s best tacticians.
“Even when I was not in the PBA, just watching from a distance, I’ve always been impressed because he has a very different way of doing things, but very effective,” said Reyes.
“And it is, I think, he’s a credit to our profession. I think we need more young coaches like him to come in and just breathe life to the local coaching profession.”
Great matchups await a series pitting two teams with deep talents.
Abueva and Sangalang will have their hands full down low against veteran Kelly Williams, Poy Erram and Troy Rosario, who like their counterparts endured bruising battles in the semis.
The firepower at the backcourt spot is also crucial, with TNT rookie Mikey Williams and Magnolia’s Paul Lee. The rest of the guards are also going to play important roles, namely Jayson Castro and RR Pogoy for the Tropang Giga and Mark Barroca and Jio Jalalon for the Hotshots.
The two teams will also bank on their other role players like veteran center Rafi Reavis, swingman Rome dela Rosa, guard Justin Melton and sophomore big Aris Dionisio for Magnolia and Ryan Reyes, rugged frontcourt players Dave Marcelo and Glenn Khobuntin and Kib Montalbo.
All games of the PBA Finals are going to be held at the DHVSU campus after the league backed out of plans to stage the championship series at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City, the site of the first two weeks of the eliminations.