San Miguel Beer and TNT KaTropa are two of the most revered franchises in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA). With a combined 55 finals appearances and 30 PBA crowns, the Beermen and the KaTropa will try to build their own rivalry in the league as they clash in the best-of-seven championship series of the Commissioner’s Cup on Wednesday at the Araneta Colisem.
San Miguel, easily the most successful squad in the last two years, is gunning for its 24th crown while TNT is searching for its eighth but first in the last two seasons.
But this is just the second time the two squads will face off in the finals with TNT winning their first encounter in the 2010 Philippine Cup finals, 4-2.
“I believe it is going to be a tough and long series because both teams are talented,” said Beermen head coach Leo Austria during the pre-finals press conference on Monday at the Sambokojin in Eastwood City.
“At the same time, both teams have the similar desires of winning the crown. If that’s the attitude of the two teams, the series will last longer and is definitely good for the fans.”
The Beermen are priding themselves with a winning tradition, having won the last three All-Filipino conferences, all under Austria, but they have yet to get closer toward a possible grand slam.
Clinching the Commissioner’s Cup will put their one foot to the dream but Austria is not looking far ahead.
“We are not thinking of the grand slam yet. It’s not on our minds. Our main focus is to win the title,” Austria insisted.
The Quezon native hoops tactician will be facing a rookie coach in the finals named Nash Racela, who won a crown with Far Eastern University in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines.
His success with the Tamaraws was his ticket to the PBA.
Racela knew that they are facing a daunting task in the finals, especially that the status of their import, Joshua Smith, remains uncertain up to this point.
“It is nice to be here in the finals. We are setting new challenges of bringing out the best from anybody. I’m sure they will give their best although we’re a young team in terms of experience compared to them,” said Racela.
“San Miguel Beer is the barometer in this league. They are the best team right now. We are happy to meet them,” he added.
Both teams finished off their semifinals foes in four games although KaTropa enter the finals with uncertainties as they have yet to decide on the status of Smith, who injured his foot in Game 2 of their semis series against Barangay Ginebra San Miguel.
“My status is day-to-day and I feel fine. I will be playing on Wednesday. I will help TNT win a championship,” said Smith.
Standby import Mike Myers is in town and will be available for TNT in case Smith is incapacitated by injury.
The local match-ups are also interesting to watch with four of the five candidates for the Best Player of the Conference (BPC) are in the series.
Beermen Chris Ross, Alex Cabagnot and June Mar Fajardo and KaTropa Jayson Castro are in a tight race for the BPC honor. But they are all focused to win the ultimate prize.
“Winning the championship is our goal and not any individual accolade,” said Ross.
Cabagnot echoed Ross’ statements and added their goal is to win the crown.
“We’re not going to take TNT lightly and I’m expecting a good match,” said Cabagnot.
Castro, who won the BPC award four times, said the key to beat the mighty Beermen is teamwork.
“We need to play as a team because they are really a strong team and they have the experience,” said Castro.
Veteran forward Kelly Williams agreed. “You’re going to play against best talent of the other team.”