San Miguel Beer starts its journey to history as it battles Barangay Ginebra San Miguel today in Game 1 of the Philippine Basketball Association Philippine Cup finals at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
The defending champion Beermen begin their three-peat bid against the Gin Kings in their 7 p.m. encounter.
San Miguel head coach Leo Austria, owner of three PBA titles including the last two Philippine Cup crowns, knows the importance of Game 1 in a best-of-seven championships series.
“In any series, winning Game 1 is important although it won’t assure you of winning the entire series but psychologically, you have the edge in terms of preparing for the next game,” said Austria, whose team finished No. 1 after the elims and had to endure a tough seven-game semifinals series against TNT KaTropa.
“It is better to be in that situation rather than thinking how to get back in winning if you’re coming off a loss,” he added.
They are up against a team, which came from the bottom of the playoffs by weaving their never-say-die attitude.
The Gin Kings negated Alaska’s twice-to-beat advantage in the quarterfinals and had to come back from a 0-2 deficit in their best-of-seven semifinal series against the Star.
While San Miguel has June Mar Fajardo, the reigning three-time Most Valuable Player of the league, that makes them the favorite to win it anew, Ginebra boasts the winningest coach of the league – Tim Cone, winner of 19 PBA titles including two Grand Slam with Alaska and Star.
But the American mentor downplayed his coaching advantage in the series and believes that the Beermen, with Fajardo around, remain the favorites in the series.
“It is always important to win Game 1 because you will dictate the series. It is an opportunity to go on the offensive, make the actions while their doing all the reactions and the adjustments at the back,” said Cone.
“We didn’t do it against Star during the semifinals, we’re down 0-2, and we do not like to be in that situation again. So, I’m always telling my players the importance of winning the first game of the series,” he added.
This is the first time in 10 years that both teams clash for the All-Filipino crown.
In 2006, the Jayjay Helterbrand-led Gin Kings prevailed against the Beermen despite losing the first two games of the series.
Cone knows that his team can’t afford to fall in that hole again as San Miguel is simply too talented to waste that kind of advantage in the series.
Besides Fajardo, the leading candidate for the Best Player of the Conference, Austria also has Arwind Santos, Alex Cabagnot, Marcio Lassiter and Chris Ross to rely on.
The Kings may not have a single player who can stop Fajardo one-on-one but Cone believes they can figure that out with a solid defensive team effort.
San Miguel wants to become the second team in league history to win three straight Philippine Cup titles. KaTropa were the first to do the trick in 2011 to 2013 to bring home the Perpetual Trophy.