Keys to victory: San Miguel-Magnolia Finals series
MANILA, Philippines—The PBA Philippine Cup Finals rematch will pit one of the league’s best offensive teams in defending champion San Miguel Beer against Magnolia, which is known for its vaunted defense.
The Beermen, for good and obvious reasons, are the favorites to win the best-of-seven series having ruled the conference for the past four years.
But despite having the better odds, San Miguel Beer coach Leo Austria believes the series is 50-50 heading into Wednesday night’s Game 1.
Austria is wary of the “more experienced” Hotshots, who have matured leaps and bounds since their first All-Filipino finals encounter last year where the Beermen won in five games.
“They gained a lot of experience and by winning a championship last conference, it could help a lot for their cause,” he said.
“I think we matured as a team. Last conference, we won a championship and that’s big for us, for our experience and maturity of this group,” said Magnolia head coach Chito Victolero.
But it’s still hard to say if Magnolia’s growth would be enough to end San Miguel’s reign especially with the Beermen adding two more stars in Christian Standhardinger and Terrence Romeo, who were still not around in last season’s Philippine Cup finals.
“It’s a big factor for them to have Christian and Terrence. They’re a big help to their team. But we can’t do anything about that. We will just try to prepare hard. We know we’re the underdog,” Victolero said.
Much has been said about Romeo. But the Beermen’s experiment in acquiring his services has been nothing but beneficial. Romeo has provided San Miguel another dimension on the offensive end.
The scoring machine, however, will be put to the test in his first finals appearance against the Hotshots bevy of guards led by Paul Lee.
The Hotshots usually go where Lee, Jio Jalalon and Mark Barroca take them. Lee can impact a game in a big way even without scoring while Jalalon and Barroca have also been key to their team’s success on both ends of the floor.
“Excited ako, alam namin natin na magagaling yung backcourt ng Magnolia, talented. Kailangan lang namin mag-ready para sa kanila. Dapat ibigay namin yung A-game namin kasi para sakin, grabe yung backcourt ng Magnolia,” Romeo, who could very well be his team’s X-factor in the series, said.
(I’m excited because we all know that Magnolia has a talented backcourt and we need to be ready against them. We need to bring our A-game agains their backcourt.)
Romeo won’t be doing it alone in the SMB backcourt with veteran stars Alex Cabagnot and Chris Ross primed for another flourishing finals stint.
Centers of attention
The guards of either team will be a handful and so are the men in the middle.
San Miguel’s June Mar Fajardo has been the best player in the PBA for the past several years now and in the big men conversation, no other center comes close.
But below the top tier where Fajardo stands is Magnolia’s Ian Sangalang.
Sangalang is as versatile as they come. He can dominate the paint with his potent back to the basket game as well as stretch the floor with his soft touch.
Fajardo, the PBA’s only five-time MVP, will get his points one way or another but the Hotshots can at least slow him down by committee.
Sangalang has length and Rafi Reavis too. Reavis, one of the league’s best defenders, was spectacular in the Magnolia’s semifinals series against Rain or Shine and he has the potential to be the Hotshots’ X-factor against San Miguel.
Last year’s Philippine Cup finals lasted for only five games. This year could take longer.
“It’s going to be a tougher series. Magnolia is getting better and better,” Austria said.
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