THE PBA Commissioner’s Cup finals between the San Miguel Beermen and the TNT KaTropa marks only the fourth time the two powerhouse ballclubs meet for the championship, and the match-up so far has been favorable to the SMC flagship squad.
SMB owns a 2-1 advantage over TNT in finals battles, and the Beermen have not lost to the Texters in the title series for a reinforced conference.
But that’s history for the two teams, especially since both have shaken up their roster and coaching staff from the time they last met for the crown in the 2011 PBA Governor’s Cup.
Arwind Santos and Alex Cabagnot are only the remnants of that Petron Blaze Boosters squad coached by Ato Agustin, while Jayson Castro, Ranidel de Ocampo, Ryan Reyes, Kelly Williams and Harvey Carey remain from that TNT Tropang Texters team with Chot Reyes then at the helm when they were foiled from winning a Grand Slam.
Things have definitely changed for both the Beermen and the KaTropa. Under coach Leo Austria, SMB has marched to five finals appearances and won four titles while led by three-time MVP June Mar Fajardo. This, however, is their first trip to the Commissioner’s Cup finale in 16 years, and also the first finals stint of their current import Charles Rhodes.
The TNT team, now under rookie coach Nash Racela, are four wins away from reclaiming the Commissioner’s Cup throne they owned two seasons ago. The young KaTropa, still led by Castro, now bank on youngsters like RR Pogoy, Troy Rosario and Moala Tautuaa to back up their burly import Joshua Smith.
TNT was the first, and one of just two squads, to beat SMB, 112-103, in the elimination round, thanks to an explosive 40-20 game from previous import Donte Greene and clutch hits from former player Larry Fonacier. Still, the fourth-seed KaTropa didn’t skip a beat under Smith in rolling past Meralco and Ginebra in the playoffs to reach the finals.
San Miguel, though, rode the strong play of Rhodes along with co-Best Player of the Conference leaders Alex Cabagnot and Chris Ross to a thrilling semifinal victory over Star Hotshots to stay on course for a Grand Slam after winning the Philippine Cup.
SPIN.ph takes a look at the key stats for each squad to bring home the Commissioner’s Cup crown in what promises to be a titanic clash for the title.
SMB - 108.5 pts (47.3 FG%), 99.4 pts allowed, 10.2 3ptm, 49.2 rebs, 23.2 asts, 8.3 steals, 5 blocks, 17.2 TOs
TNT – 105.3 pts (44.8 FG%), 101.3 pts allowed, 9.9 3ptm, 49.8 rebs, 20.7 asts, 5.1 steals, 4.1 blocks, 15.3 TOs
SMB – 100.5 pts (47.2 FG%), 99.3 pts allowed, 8 3ptm, 40.5 rebs, 22.8 asts, 9.8 steals, 5.5 blocks, 14 TOs
TNT – 107.5 pts (48.1 FG%), 107.8 pts allowed, 10 3ptm, 44.8 rebs, 18.8 asts, 3.5 steals, 3.5 blocks, 14.25 TOs
Judging by the numbers, TNT has turned the tide in the semis after getting dominated in almost every category except turnovers and rebounds against SMB’s stats. It’s not a case of matchups in the playoffs either as the KaTropa have ramped up the scoring and the pace against defensive squads like Meralco and Ginebra.
San Miguel’s offense may have dipped in the playoffs, but what the Beermen lost in firepower, they more than made up for in defense and efficiency. SMB remained one of the top teams in assists, steals and blocks while keeping its opponent in less than 100 pts per game and decreasing their turnovers.
It’s shaping up to be a battle of TNT’s scorching offense against SMB’s stifling defense. But some key individual matchups will be crucial.
Semis: 15.3 pts, 1.8 3ptm, 4.3 rebs, 7 asts, 1.3 stls, 3.3 TOs
Elims: 15.4 pts, 1.1 3ptm, 3.5 rebs, 6.9 asts, 0.6 stls, 3.1 TOs
The TNT’s offensive resurgence starts with a rejuvenated Castro, who found his groove just in time to step up for an injured Smith in finishing off Ginebra. The Gilas stalwart, struggling with his shot in the first three games, dropped 38 points, including five triples, with 11 assists and seven rebounds in the semis-series clincher.
Semis: 19.3 pts, 0 3ptm, 10.3 rebs, 2 asts, 1 stls, 1.3 blks
Elims: 23 pts, 0 3ptm, 11 rebs, 2.5 asts, 0 stls, 0.5 blks
Smith’s health remains key for the KaTropa’s chances. Coming in as a late replacement, the hulking import found his groove in the series versus Meralco only to suffer a foot injury in the Ginebra matchup that significantly took down his production. Smith will be crucial in patrolling the paint against SMB’s twin towers of Rhodes and Fajardo, while also giving the Beermen’s defense trouble in containing him down the lane.
Semis: 12 pts, 2 3ptm, 3.3 rebs, 0.5 asts, 0.5 stls, 0 TOs
Elims: 13.3 pts, 1.6 3ptm, 5.2 rebs, 1.1 asts, 1 stls, 1.2 TOs
One thing that remained constant is the solid play of rookie Pogoy, the team’s second leading local scorer. Pogoy’s numbers got a bit lower in the playoffs, when defenses tightened up, but he also cleaned up on his errors and got sharper from beyond the arc.
Semis: 14 pts, 1.5 3ptm, 6 rebs, 4 asts, 1 stls, 1.5 TOs
Elims: 15 pts, 2.2 3ptm, 6.6 rebs, 5.4 asts, 1.4 stls, 1.6 TOs
On San Miguel’s side, early BPC leader Cabagnot followed the same script as Castro as he struggled early on in the semis only to find his groove late to clinch the spot in the finals. Still, his numbers dipped across the board but the Beermen had another guard step up in Ross.
Semis: 17 pts, 1.75 3ptm, 6.3 rebs, 9.3 asts, 4.3 stls, 2 TOs
Elims: 12 pts, 1.5 3ptm, 4.6 rebs, 7.5 asts, 2.5 stls, 2.5 TOs
Ross has taken his game to another level in the semis clash against Star, particularly exploding on the offensive end in the final two games with back-to-back outings of more than 20 points scored. The rebounds and assists also rose, but what stands out is how his average in steals almost doubled.
Semis: 28 pts, 0.8 3ptm, 9.3 rebs, 2.3 asts, 2.5 stls, 1.5 blks
Elims: 28.4 pts, 0.9 3ptm, 10.5 rebs, 1.8 asts, 0.8 stls, 1.6 blks
Rhodes, however, was also a revelation on the defensive end in the semis vs Star, more than doubling his steals output while remaining a double-double machine for the Beermen. He held his own against a monster import like Ricardo Ratliffe, and he’ll have a different challenge against another beast in Smith.