SMB, TNT all set for marquee duel

The stage is set for the titanic collision between two of the most storied franchises in the PBA.

Photo from PBA

For the first time in more than a decade, TNT and San Miguel Beer will figure in a marquee Philippine Cup Finals duel which will also feature a battle between the flagship franchises of two of the biggest conglomerates in the league.

Members of the finalists were present during the press conference at the Novotel Manila in Araneta City in Cubao which served as a prelude to an epic clash that could go down to a thrilling finish in the best-of-seven affair.

The Beermen, although looking entirely different from their dominant ‘"Death Five" lineup that won them five straight all-Filipino conference titles, will still have the ever-imposing six-time MVP June Mar Fajardo in tow along with an array of formidable scorers led by Fajardo’s running mate in the Best Player of the Conference race CJ Perez, Mo Tautuaa, Marcio Lassiter, Chris Ross and new weapons Rodney Brondial, Jericho Cruz and Simon Enciso.

Back in the PH Cup finals for the first time in three years, Fajardo and his crew are ready to reclaim their spot at the pinnacle of the Filipino basketball.

“Sobrang saya ko na nasa Fiinals uli kami, ilang taon kami di kami nakaabot sa finals. Alam namin na di ganun kadali makuha, ‘yung championship pero andito kami, so susundin namin yung game plan ni coach, may chance kami na manalo,” said the 6-foot-10 behemoth.

The Tropang Giga, the defending champions of the crown jewel of the PBA season, are not be left out with weapons in their arsenal as the team will be spearheaded by the last all-Filipino conference Finals Most Valuable Player Mikey Williams and joined by a resurgent Jayson Castro, RR Pogoy, Troy Rosario and Poy Erram.

“Definitely excited to get it started, I know it’s gonna be a tough series,” said Williams.

“Against San Miguel, napakalakas na team kailangan namin mag laro as a team for us magka-chance sa series na ito at the same time siguro kung paano namin sila mai-stop,” echoed Castro

Another interesting storyline in the best-of-seven finale is the chess match between the two of the winningest tacticians in the conference with both TNT head coach Chot Reyes and SMB mentor Leo Austria guiding their respective teams in winning Perpetual trophies some time in the past.

Reyes won three straight titles in the PH Cup from 2010 to 2013, the first of which came at the expense of an SMB team which was then under coach Ato Agustin and was still then led by Arwind Santos and Jay Washington.

Austria, though, did it better, winning five straight titles from 2014 to 2019 seasons and had been undefeated every time he set foot in the Philippine Cup Finals.

In their most recent playoff matchup, Reyes had Austria’s number when TNT booted out SMB in the semifinals last season, 4-2. The two veteran tacticians, however, both agreed that the series will be a tight battle between two equally talented teams. In the eliminations of this conference, SMB beat TNT, 115-99.

“Our only chance to be able to compete is for us to consistently play our best. Hopefully we can have better preparation and we hopefully find ways to match the talent of the San Miguel team,” said Reyes.

“Just to be here for us is very special but it’s really been an honor for us, for the players as well so we look forward to going to battle against them,” he added.

“Pipilitin naman but napakahirap alam naman natin na yung death five namin kulang na but we're trying our best to be cohesive and maraming bagong players so they are still learning especially playing (in) the championship (series),” said Austria.