THE finals set-to for the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Commissioner’s Cup is now set after the San Miguel Beermen and TNT KaTropa booked their respective seats for the “Big Dance” at the weekend.
Two teams that did not have it easy in the lead-up to the championship series but managed to emerge on top on the strength of what they said was their firm commitment to seeing their causes through and doing what was needed to be done.
San Miguel barged into its fifth finals appearance in the last eight conferences by beating the Star Hotshots, 3-1, in a grind-it-out best-of-five semifinal affair.
The Beermen lost in the series opener but racked up three straight narrow victories -- with an average winning margin of three points -- to close out things.
In the clincher last Friday, San Miguel needed to dig deep anew as Star just would not allow it to have its way.
Four Beermen scored 20 points or more in a game that saw the two teams fought nip-and-tuck all the way.
Alex Cabagnot finished with 26 points, six rebounds and five assists while Chris Ross had 24 markers, 10 dimes and five steals.
June Mar Fajardo had 22 points and eight rebounds with import Charles Rhodes tallying 21 points and 10 rebounds.
“The players just showed they’re still hungry and want to prove themselves some more after all our championships in the last three years,” said San Miguel coach Leo Austria after their 109-102 Game Four victory.
“They showed their championship caliber because while Charles struggled due to foul trouble, our starters picked it up and proved they’re the best all-Filipino core group in the league,” he added.
WE DO THE RIGHT THINGS
And proving themselves amid a tough challenge was also what TNT did as it eliminated the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Kings in the semifinals also in four games.
While they seemingly had a relatively easy time in their series with the Kings compared to San Miguel, with the KaTropa racing to a 2-0 series lead early, they are the first to say it was otherwise.
Having to deal with Barangay Ginebra’s never-say-die reputation and the team’s multitude of fans, injury to its import, and momentum shifting to its opponent following a rout loss in Game Three, TNT had to stay focused and be at its best throughout the series.
“We just felt that in the series, as long as we do the right things and commit to things that we really need to do, good things will happen. And in the end, we survived Ginebra,” said TNT coach following their 122-109 Game Four win last Saturday.
An explosion from All-Star guard Jayson Castro, who struggled for much of the Barangay Ginebra series, proved to be a big difference for TNT in the clincher.
Mr. Castro had a near triple-double of 38 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds in towing his team to the finals.
Kelly Williams added 14 points and 12 rebounds while ailing import Joshua Smith had 18 points in 21 minutes of play for TNT, which is back in the finals after more than a year of absence.
The about-to-start finals encounter between San Miguel and TNT is the first time they will be facing in the championship since the 2011 Governors' Cup which San Miguel (then known as Petron) took in seven games.
The PBA Commissioner’s Cup best-of-seven finals series begins on Wednesday.