THE long time-coming reengagement in the finals of the San Miguel Beermen and TNT KaTropa begins today with Game One of their best-of-seven Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Commissioner’s Cup finals at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
With tip-off set for 7 p.m., the finals encounter marks the first time in six years that the two storied franchises will be facing each other for a PBA championship.
The last time the two teams met, San Miguel, then playing under the Petron brand and coached by Ato Agustin, edged TNT for the 2011 Governors’ Cup title in a classic seven-game series that went the full route.
San Miguel and TNT also battled in the semifinals of the previous tournament, Philippine Cup, this season with the KaTropa bowing to the eventual champions in seven games.
The higher-seeded Beermen enter the series as the favorites but do not give much weight into it as they know the finals is a whole new ball game and that TNT is a highly capable team to win it all as well.
“TNT is a well-organized and disciplined team. They have very good players who can make plays and deliver. They are very dangerous and we have to prepare for them,” said San Miguel coach Leo Austria during the pre-Finals press conference held on Monday, adding that their “championship experience” is something they will try to bank on in the series.
“It’s not easy to beat TNT but we trust in each other and that I believe will carry us through our goal of winning another title for the franchise,” said forward Arwind Santos.
Already the most successful franchise in PBA history with 23 titles, the Beermen hope to bag championship number 24 and move a step closer to completing a second grand slam feat in addition to the one they did in 1989.
“Every coach and player dreams of a grand slam. But you cannot predict things. Of course, that’s part of our goal but we are not thinking about it too much for now. We will take it one game at a time,” said Mr. Austria of the mind-set they have heading into the series and of the grand slam opportunity they have.
TAKING ON THE CHALLENGE
For TNT, it said it knows it has a tough battle ahead of it against a solid San Miguel crew but nonetheless is willing to take on the challenge.
“As a competitor, you want to go up against the best when you’re given such an opportunity,” said TNT coach Nash Racela also during the press conference.
“It’s nice to be here in the finals. The whole group of TNT is waiting for this and looking forward to emerging successfully from it,” he added.
TNT said it is expecting to parade hulking import Joshua Smith for Game One today notwithstanding the foot injury he is dealing with.
Just the same, the KaTropa have flown in Mike Myers as a possible standby import just in case Mr. Smith cannot play for the rest of the series.
“I came here for one goal and that’s to help TNT win a championship. I hope it will be a great series, especially for the fans,” said Mr. Smith.
TNT is the seventh winningest team in the PBA with seven titles, the last coming in the 2015 Commissioner’s Cup.
It is something the KaTropa hope to add on after everything is said and done in the tournament.
“I feel blessed to be in the finals. The last time we were here was in 2015 and it has been a while. I’m looking forward to a great series with San Miguel,” Jayson Castro, for his part, said.
In their lone game in the 2017 PBA Commissioner’s Cup elimination round on May 5, TNT beat San Miguel, 112-103.