SMB season sweep again in sight
No one is understandably not talking about a Grand Slam this early, but there’s no ignoring the impact of San Miguel Beer’s recent romp to a third straight PBA Philippine Cup championship.
The Beermen were simply awesome in wrapping up the best-of-seven title series against the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Gin Kings, 4 games to 1, and with solid imports in the next two conferences this season, SMB has a strong shot at a second title sweep since 1989 and the league’s sixth Triple Crown since its start in 1975.
The SMB franchise, now with 23 championships overall, will actually be gunning for a third TC performance counting the sweep pulled off by San Mig Coffee under coach Tim Cone in 2014.
Cone took a crack at his league-leading 20th title and a second straight championship with the Kings, but not even the presence of PBA great and former Ginebra player-coach Robert Jaworski in Game 5 last week could deny Leo Austria a fourth title in as many finals with SMB since taking over as coach in 2014.
The Beermen were actually in hot pursuit of the second TC jewel last season after coming off a 0-3 hole against the Alaska Aces in the Philippine Cup title playoffs to become the first team to win the last four matches of a seven-game series.
Led by the high-scoring American Tyler Wilkerson, the Beermen topped the Commissioner’s Cup eliminations with the Meralco Bolts with identical 8-3 win loss records.
They then eliminated the Star Hotshots in two games to reach the semifinals against the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters.
But Wilkerson proved unmanageable after SMB dropped close decisions to ROS in the first two games of the best-of-five semifinals.
After storming out of a postgame huddle following a 98-96 Game 2 loss and declaring he wants to go home, the Beermen did ship him out and played all-Filipino in Game 3 which they won, 104-98.
However, Rain or Shine closed out the series in Game 4 with a 124-99 rout as SMB fielded AZ Reid as last-minute reinforcement and eventually won the championship over Alaska.
Elijah Millsap played for San Miguel in the Governors’ Cup but he was no match for Ginebra import Justin Brownlee as the Kings eliminated the Beermen, 3-2, in their semifinal series.
Brownlee went on to deliver the 19th title of Cone’s coaching career when he fired a buzzer-beating triple to nip the Bolts, 91-88, and clinch the series with a 4-2 slate.
Brownlee, although at 6-foot-5, is returning for Ginebra in the Commissioner’s Cup which is set to start this Friday.
Cone has decided to play small in a tournament that allows imports as tall as 6-10.
The Beermen is banking this time on 6-8 American Charles Rhodes, the second all-time leader in blocks in the Korean Basketball League.
The 31-year-old, who has played as an import in Latvia, Spain, Turkey and Israel, averaged 23.8 points, 11.2 rebounds and 31.5 minutes in 33 games for the Ulsan Mobis Phoebus in Korea.
The other returning imports are 6-5 Eugene Phelps of Phoenix Petroleum, 6-9 James White of Mahindra, Wayne Chism of NLEX, Shawn Taggart of Rain or Shine and 6-9 Denzel Bowles of TNT.
Joining Rhodes as new reinforcements are 6-10 Greg Smith of Blackwater, 6-9 Tony Mitchell of Star, 6-9 Octavius Ellis of Alaska, 6-10 Alex Stepheson of Meralco and 6-10 Sean Williams of GlobalPort.
Smith, Williams, Mitchell and Stepheson are former NBA players.