The culmination of the PBA bubble in Pampanga will see a pair of preseason favorites duking it out for the right to become the newest kingpin of the pro league’s crown jewel.
San Miguel Beer’s ouster after a five-year reign has opened the door for Barangay Ginebra and TNT to lay claim the PBA Philippine Cup and the status as the country’s best All-Filipino squad.
Ginebra and TNT made their way to the best-of-seven affair after contrasting wins in Friday’s semifinal deciders with a chance to add another championship in the two clubs’ decorated stint in Asia’s first pay-for-play league.
The Finals which begins Sunday evening at the Angeles University Foundation Sports and Cultural Center features talent-laden squads and well-coached systems and another chapter in the corporate rivalry between San Miguel Corporation and MVP Group.
BARANGAY GINEBRA SAN MIGUEL
Elimination Round: 8-3 (1st)
Quarterfinals: Defeated Rain or Shine, 81-73
Semifinals: Defeated Meralco, 3-2
Ginebra enters the championship series with huge confidence after overcoming a determined challenge by Meralco courtesy of Scottie Thompson’s game-winning triple in Game 5.
Thompson, Stanley Pringle, Japeth Aguilar and LA Tenorio have anchored Ginebra’s run inside the bubble while getting solid contributions from Aljon Mariano, Prince Caperal and even veterans Joe Devance and Jared Dillinger.
Having 22-time champion coach Tim Cone on the sidelines is also a reason for the Kings to have a bit of an edge against the Tropang Giga.
WHAT’S AT STAKE FOR THE KINGS?
Ginebra will make its 27th appearance in the PBA Finals with a chance to win a 13th championship which would put them in a tie for fourth all-time with the fabled Crispa Redmanizers.
The Kings are also seeking a fourth All-Filipino crown and their first since 2007 when they overcame a 0-2 deficit to beat the San Miguel Beermen in six games.
Cone is aiming for a record-extending 23rd PBA championship and a fifth title with Ginebra which will make him the winningest coach in team history. He and the great Robert Jaworski are currently tied with four apiece.
TNT TROPANG GIGA
Elimination Round: 7-4 (3rd)
Quarterfinals: Defeated Alaska, 104-83
Semifinals: Defeated Phoenix Super LPG, 3-2
TNT also had to go through a tough Phoenix side by overcoming a 2-1 deficit to win the final two games of their semifinal meeting.
The Tropang Giga head to the finals with Ray Parks Jr. coming off a splendid performance in Games 4 and 5. Parks and Jayson Castro have anchored TNT for most of the bubble while Poy Erram, RR Pogoy and Troy Rosario can make the team difficult to beat provided they play consistent.
Coach Bong Ravena and active consultant Mark Dickel will have their work cut out as they map out a sound strategy in order to have an advantage against Cone’s mastery.
WHAT’S AT STAKE FOR THE TROPANG GIGA?
The Tropang Giga are back in the Finals for the 18th time in the club’s 30-year participation. The flagship franchise of Manny V. Pangilinan is also gunning for an eighth title and its first since the 2015 Commissioner’s Cup.
TNT will be the hungrier team going into the title showdown, having lost its previous two title shots against San Miguel in the 2017 and 2019 Commissioner’s Cup.
It is TNT’s first appearance in the All-Filipino Finals since 2013 when it completed a third straight crown and possession of the Jun Bernardino Perpetual Trophy.
SERIES TO DECIDE BUBBLE MVP?
Pringle and Parks are two remaining players inside the bubble who are candidates for the distinction as the best cager of the shortened season.
The PBA has yet to decide in finality what awards will be handed out to the top achievers of the bubble, but the two have shown why they have made strong cases during their performances in the semifinals.
Their performance in the Finals will likely play a role in the derby but the one who ends up holding the Jun Bernardino trophy may have a stronger shot.
OTHER KEYS FOR GINEBRA TO WIN
The late entry inside the bubble resulted in early struggles for Aguilar and Tenorio but became more integral once they have rediscovered their old form late in the eliminations. They have been key for Ginebra during the playoffs which bodes well in their title bid.
Cone has shortened his rotation to at least eight players in the semis, and that could likely continue in the Finals. That should make the roles of Mariano, Caperal, Devance and Dillinger even more important as the series progresses.
That doesn’t mean that Ginebra won’t pull off some surprises, especially with Cone having the likes of rookie Arvin Tolentino and seldom-used players Jeff Chan, Art Dela Cruz and Mark Caguioa capable of stepping up if the opportunity arises.
OTHER KEYS FOR TNT TO WIN
While Parks has been phenomenal, the performance of Castro may dictate the chances of the Tropang Giga to rule the Philippine Cup. He averaged 17.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 2.3 steals in the three semifinal victories and 10.5 points on 22 percent shooting in the two defeats to Phoenix.
Offensive consistency was the issue for Pogoy, Rosario and Erram during the latter part of the elims and the playoffs despite trying to make up for it through their defensive effort. Having the three put up the same offensive numbers they had in the early goings of the bubble will help Parks and Castro get the much-needed help.
Simon Enciso and veteran Jay Washington will also be players to watch after delivering for TNT during the two last two of the semis series with Phoenix. Enciso averaged 12.0 points in the semis while Washington scored 11 points aside from his defensive contributions during Game 5.
WHAT HAPPENED DURING THEIR ELIMINATION ROUND MEETING?
Ginebra defeated TNT 85-79 last Nov. 6 behind a strong start led by Pringle (28 points, 12 rebounds), Aguilar (19 points, 11 rebounds) and Tenorio (15 points on 5-of-10 shooting). Castro came off the bench to score 19 points in the loss.
The Kings raced to a 12-2 start behind Pringle and Aguilar before Tenorio got into the act in creating a double-digit lead numerous times in the second half. The Tropang Giga tried to make a run in the fourth behind Castro, Erram, Parks and Pogoy but playing catch up all throughout proved to be too much in the end.
WHAT HAPPENED IN THE TWO PREVIOUS GINEBRA-TNT FINALS MEETINGS?
Ginebra won its first title duel with TNT back in the 2004-05 Philippine Cup 4-2, with Eric Menk being named Finals MVP.
TNT got back at Ginebra seven years later in the 2011 Commissioner’s Cup, claiming a similar 4-2 series triumph behind co-Finals MVPs Castro and Jimmy Alapag. The Tropang Texters were reinforced by Paul Harris.
Caguioa and TNT’s Harvey Carey will be the only players in the upcoming series to appear in the two previous title meetings.
The two teams also had a memorable encounter in the 1999 All-Filipino quarterfinals when eighth seed Ginebra stunned top-ranked TNT, then known as Mobiline, in the quarterfinals on Bal David’s tough runner at the buzzer. The harsh defeat prompted then-Phone Pals star rookie Asi Taulava to shed tears on the sidelines.