The opening page of what could be another epic chapter of the storied rivalry between San Miguel Beer and TNT begins on Sunday, Aug. 21, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Beermen and the Tropang Giga both aim to draw first blood in Game 1 and set the tone in their best-of-seven PBA Philippine Cup finals showdown which will formally open at the 6 p.m. scheduled tip-off.
Both coaches, which also happened to be two of the most decorated tacticians in the all-Filipino conference, know full well the importance of taking the first game especially in a series that is anticipated to go the distance.
After all, SMB and TNT battled in the same fashion not too long ago when the Tropang Giga dispatched the Beermen in the semifinals of the Philippine Cup last season.
During that time, it was TNT which gained the head start in their best-of-seven series and eventually won the semis showdown in seven games. The Tropang Giga advanced to the Finals where it took down the Magnolia Hotshots, 4-2 to bag the all-Filipino crown.
That is something head coach Leo Austria wanted to avoid as his retooled “Death Five” looks to regain their lost glory in the conference which it last won in 2019, towards the end of its “five-peat” run.
“What I noticed in our semifinals umabot ng Game 7, we lost Game 1, they won in Games 1, 3,5, and 7. That’s why four wins so very important yung Game 1 of the series baka ganun ‘yung magiging record pa rin,” said Austria who has been undefeated so far in his five finals appearances in the PH Cup.
“We don’t know what will happen. In the past championship, everytime na Game 7 medyo swerte kami doon eh but this is a different tournament and different game, all of the teams especially TNT, a well-oiled machine and cohesive and very comfortable with each other, that’s one thing that we have to consider,” added the eight-time PBA champion.
TNT head coach Chot Reyes however is in no illusion that the series will be a smooth sailing glide through calm waters but rather a difficult race through turbulent seas to complete a back-to-back PH cup title run.
He noted that the Beermen, while less experienced as compared to their lineup during their dominant run three years ago, have more depth to their current roster.
“Sakin, last year is last year. I think everyone has said that San Miguel is a really different team now, a lot deeper, so kinalimutan ko na yung last year sana lang ang resulta pareho pero other than that last year is already past,” said Reyes.
“I thought the previous San Miguel team had more experience but this San Miguel team has more depth and better balance so it’s really tough. I hope we can fall back on our experience. If you look at it, aside from Jayson (Castro) and Kelly (Williams) the team has limited experience anyway so like I said it’s going to be an uphill battle, it’s going to be very tough.”