Philippine Cup champion San Miguel Beer and TNT KaTropa begin their best-of-seven championship showdown in Game 1 of the Philippine Basketball Association Season 42 Commissioner’s Cup finals tonight at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The clash of the titans is set at 7 p.m. with the Beermen and the KaTropa going for the early series lead and dictate the tempo of the dream duel.
San Miguel, which is eyeing its 24th PBA title, is also gunning for its second straight crown and fifth under head coach Leo Austria.
TNT is back in the finals after a two-year hiatus and the Manny V. Pangilinan franchise is looking for its eighth league title and first under rookie coach Nash Racela.
“In every series, winning Game 1 is so important because it will help you dictate the series,” said Austria, who has three players in the running for the Best Player of the Conference (BPC) award.
Austria is 4-0 in the finals but he expects a tough journey in claiming his fifth PBA title.
“It’s not that easy considering our opponent is TNT. They’re out there to win a championship because it’s been a long time for them,” he added.
Chriss Ross, Alex Cabagnot and June Mar Fajardo are in the top five of the BPC race and together with import Charles Rhodes; they are expected to lead the assault of the Beermen.
Rhodes, one of the prime candidates for the Best Import award, is averaging 27.3 points and 10.9 rebounds per game in the mid-season conference.
The KaTropa decided to stick with burly import Joshua Smith for Game 1 although standby import Mike Myers is in town, ready to play for TNT in case Smith’s foot injury aggravates.
Smith is averaging 20.7 points and 12.3 rebounds in the tournament and his inside presence is very much needed especially in slowing down the three-time Most Valuable Player Fajardo.
Racela is in his first PBA finals and knows the value of getting the first game of a long series.
“It is always important winning Game 1 because people talk about the first win in the series. I’m sure San Miguel Beer will be chasing that and we will also chase that first win,” said Racela.
Like Racela, key players Troy Rosario, Moala Tautuaa and rookie Roger Pogoy are playing in their finals series.
“I always believe if you’re given this time opportunity, your best will come out,” Racela added.
Jayson Castro, the only KaTropa in the hunt for the BPC honor, will lead the local charge of TNT along with fellow veterans Ryan Reyes, Kelly Williams and Ranidel de Ocampo.