TNT, San Miguel vow all-out war

It’s going to be a battle between style and strength when TNT Tropang Giga faces San Miguel Beer in the best-of-seven finals series of the Philippine Basketball Association Philippine Cup starting tomorrow at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Tropang Giga head coach Chot Reyes and Beermen mentor Leo Austria promise an intense and dramatic finale between the flagship teams of the biggest conglomerates in the country – Manny V. Pangilinan Group and San Miguel Corporation.

While the Tropang Giga banks on Filipino-American scorer Mikey Williams and his smooth, fluid brand of basketball, the Beermen are relying on the brute strength of six-time Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo, raising speculations that this finals series will boil down to a sudden-death Game 78 with the hungrier, more prepared team emerging victorious.

Reyes knows they will be hard-pressed as they try to change their destiny since they last figured in the Commissioner’s Cup finals back in 2019.

During that time, TNT was enduring a title-drought while eventual champion San Miguel was still lording it over, winning eight crowns to emerge as the most dominant team of that era.

But all of those are already things of the past.

“Very honestly, (it’s) very difficult and this is just being as objective as possible. If you take a look at the lineup and how deep and how strong they are,” Reyes said during the PBA Finals press conference in Novotel Manila yesterday.

“Since there are two teams battling, it’s 50-50. It’s one or the other so the important thing for us is to stay patient and understand how difficult this series is going to be.”

“We have no illusions about it, we know how strong the other team is. We just have to be prepared.”

Since the pandemic hit the PBA in 2020, their fates began to turn around with TNT reaching two straight Philippine Cup finals before capturing the 2021 title at Bacolor, Pampanga.

The well-armed crew of veterans Jayson Castro, Roger Pogoy, Troy Rosario, Poy Erram and, of course, Williams, took advantage of their championship experience and clobbered their semifinal foe in Magnolia in six games to book their seat in the finals.

The Tropang Giga, however, will have a slight adjustment as Reyes might miss at least two games when he leads Gilas Pilipinas in the FIBA World Cup qualifiers on 25 and 29 August.

San Miguel, meanwhile, suffered a string of early playoff exits that forced them to miss the finals for three years.

The Beermen had to break its original championship core featuring Arwind Santos and Alex Cabagnot to make way for young stars like CJ Perez, Jericho Cruz and Rodney Brondial.

The gamble paid a handsome reward as the Beermen coasted all the way to top the eliminations before creaming Blackwater in the quarterfinals and escaping Meralco in a thrilling semifinal series.

For Austria, it will be another game of adjustments as they seek to claim their sixth Philippine Cup diadem.

“We will try to get that sixth championship. We all know that we no longer have the ‘Death Five’ that we had,” Austria said, while relying on mainstays Marcio Lassiter, Chris Ross and Fajardo, who flexed his muscles in the shaded lanes en route to a masterful 29-point performance in their series-clinching 100-98 win over Meralco late Wednesday.

“We’re trying our best to be cohesive with a lot of new players. They are still learning how to be a competitive team especially in the championship.”

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