Many believe the San Miguel Beermen (SMB) are destined to win their third straight Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Philippine Cup championship. After all, they only tasted one defeat during the elimination round even when the Talk N’ Text Ka Tropa pushed them to a Game 7 in the semis. SMB also trounced sister squad Barangay Ginebra in Game 1 of the best-of-seven Finals, 109-82, in a sterling display of basketball team game in both ends of the court. As of this writing, Game 2 has yet to be played in Lucena City.
The Beermen dominated the Gin Kings in Game 1, even posting a 36-point spread at one point. They shot an outstanding 53% from the floor, including 10-of-29 from beyond the arc. Three-time MVP June Mar Fajardo collected 17 markers, eight boards and three blocks in just 22 minutes of action after being under the weather for a couple of days before Game 1. Chris Ross was equally amazing with 17 points, eight assists and five rebounds. Alex Cabagnot and Gabby Espinas also had 16 points apiece. It was a total team effort. In contrast, Ginebra’s big guns were silent as LA Tenorio, Sol Mercado, Joe Devance and Japeth Aguilar could only come up with a combined 15 points, which is way below their average scores. There’s just no way the Gin Kings can expect to beat SMB with this output from their main scorers. They also committed 16 turnovers, allowed the Beermen 24 fast break points, and were miserable from three-point range with 3-of-13 shooting.
But Ginebra’s Tim Cone, the PBA’s winningest coach, was quick to remind us all that despite the lopsided game, they’re just one game behind in a long series.
Though I agree with most observers that SMB is favored to win the All-Filipino title, I wouldn’t count out the league’s “never-say-die” club that is Ginebra San Miguel. And when you have a brilliant tactician in Cone, even against the equally accomplished Leo Austria of San Miguel, you know that the series is far from over.
So what are the must-do’s for the Ginebra to pull off an upset over SMB?
Balance Scoring. Ginebra has a talented roster. Anybody from among Tenorio, Aguilar, Mercado, Devance, Jay-jay Helterbrand and Mark Caguioa can explode at any given day. Add the young guns like Scottie Thompson (10 points in Game 1), Chris Ellis, who topscored for the team with 13 also in Game 1, Jervy Cruz, Dave Marcelo, Kevin Ferrer, Aljon Mariano and Paolo Taha – all of whom can make major contributions. The Barangay is actually one of the teams that can match up man-for-man with SMB in talent. If five or six Gin Kings finish in double-digit scoring, they can upend any team.
Up-tempo Game:Ginebra should be the quicker team of the two. It has always been known to be a run-and-gun team and the Gin Kings surely can play the high-octane game. Besides, you’d want Fajardo to be forced to run. An exhausted June Mar should bolster the Gin Kings’ chances of winning, for sure.
Pressure Defense:In Game 1, the Beermen raced to an early scoring spree because they were aggressive and at the same time smooth in their offense. We all know they are heavy in scoring talent. The Gin Kings must make life difficult for the Beermen offensively by leveling up two notches on their pressure defense. Play them physical and relentless to get them off their rhythm, the way Talk N’ Text did in the semis.
Creativity.Austria is a master tactician who prepares well for every game. Ginebra cannot be predictable in the finals. I’m sure Cone will come up with some surprises to waylay SMB’s game plan. The Beermen are most dangerous when things go according to plan, but tend to be disoriented when caught by surprise.
Fighting Heart.Despite the odds, the Gin Kings must live up to their character as a gallant, never-surrender team. They surely have the championship experience, talent, bench depth and technical coaching expertise. All they need to stay in the hunt for the Philippine Cup is a fighting heart.
I expect this championship series to go the distance, with the remaining games tightly contested.