Looming mismatch in PBA Finals
What was hyped as a blockbuster series got going in lackluster fashion as San Miguel Beer humiliated Barangay Ginebra San Miguel in the opener of their best-of-seven playoffs for the PBA Philippine Cup championship Friday.
The defending champion Beermen, gunning for the league’s second three-year sweep of the prestigious All-Filipino title, left the never-say-die Gin Kings virtually dead at halftime then emptied their bench in the last quarter to let their lowly subs wrap up the ghastly 109-82 rout at Mall of Asia Arena.
I can’t recall a more one-sided title series opener and while both coaches, SMB’s Leo Austria and Ginebra’s Tim Cone, said the sister teams have a long way to go, the Beermen, this early, now seem to have a lock on the championship they secured by winning four straight games after dropping the first three matches of the best-of-seven title series to the Alaska Aces last year.
“We were horrible from start to finish,” admitted Cone after the unexpected debacle.
“But it’s one game and it’s a seven-game series. We’ll just put it away and move on,” added the league’s winningest coach with 19 titles, who is seeking a second consecutive crown after ruling last season’s Governors’ Cup.
Ginebra lost a 26-point lead in the first half but nipped SMB in overtime, 124-118, Sunday to their series at 1-1. Game 3 is scheduled this Wednesday at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Boasting of what is easily the tournament’s strongest starting five of June Mar Fajardo, Arwind Santos, Marcio Lassiter, Alex Cabagnot and Chris Ross, the Beermen surprised the Gin Kings with a 16-0 burst early in Game 1 for a 17-2 lead.
The Kings never recovered and failed to score consecutive baskets until the second quarter which the Beermen took at 60-39 from 60-33.
The lead went up to 33 after the third quarter.
By then, Cone had recalled his key men—LA Tenorio, Sol Mercado, Japeth Aguilar and Joe Devance—to the bench to save their energy for the succeeding games and the Beermen responded by fielding their subs the rest of the way.
“I really didn’t know what happened. I didn’t expect this kind of game,” said a surprised Austria, bidding to match the 2011-2013 title romp of Talk ‘N Text, who had the luxury of fielding his crack starters for no more than 22 minutes each.
Fajardo and company went on to combine for a total of 87 points. In contrast, the Kings’ top scorers floundered with Aguilar and Tenorio getting only five points each, Devance adding just three and Mercado two.
While Ross has emerged as SMB’s top point guard, it is still the 6-foot-10 Fajardo who will be Cone’s biggest headache in the series. Cone threw American import Justin Brownlee at Fajardo in the Governors’ Cup and succeeded in intimidating the hulking Cebuano, but no local is capable of pulling the same trick this time.
The long, hard grind to the Finals may have also affected the Kings more since they had only two days of rest after eliminating the Star Hotshots, 89-76, in their Game 7 semifinal duel last Tuesday.
The Beermen had four days off after also going through a semifinal Game 7 to oust the TNT KaTropa, 96-83, last Monday.
As the second lowest qualifier after the eliminations, the seventh-ranked Kings also needed two wins in the quarterfinals to boot out the Aces.