COACHES Luigi Trillo of Alaska and Alfrancis Chua of Barangay Ginebra expect a tight and physical opening match as the two teams battle for early control in a short best-of-five PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals starting on Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Game time is at 7:30 p.m. with a standing-room-only Big Dome expected in the title series opener.
The Aces are in the Finals for the first time in the post-Tim Cone era after dethroning the San Mig Coffee Mixers, 3-1, in their semifinal series. Ironically, Cone, who gave Alaska 13 PBA titles, bowed to Trillo, his longtime understudy, in their coaching duel.
On the other hand, the Gin Kings miraculously bounced back from a 0-4 start this conference, pulled off a quarterfinal upset against No. 2 seed Rain or Shine, before registering a 3-2 semifinal series win over Talk ’N Text to reach the Finals since the 2011 season.
The two squads are meeting in the Finals for the first time since the 1997 Commissioner’s Cup when Cone was still coaching Alaska on the sidelines and Sonny Jaworski was playing-coach for a squad then known as the Gordon’s Gin Boars.
“I think the key here is kung sino ang may gustong manalo. We’re both (Aces and Gin Kings) hungry. And with Ginebra, this will be my first finals appearance as a coach,” Chua told mediamen during Tuesday’s pre-Finals press conference at the Sambokojin Restaurant in Eastwood, Libis, Quezon City.
“This is best-of-five, we’re thinking this is gonna be all-out, maybe reach Game Five. But if you’ll ask Alaska, they want to finish it right away. Kami din we want to do it ng mas mabilis because they are all experienced players,” added Chua, who is in the Finals for the first time as head coach 14 years after going that far with Tanduay in the 1999 All-Filipino Conference opposite Shell.
For Trillo, he feels the presence of veterans like Kerby Raymundo and Jayjay Helterbrand, who found the fountain of youth during the playoffs, are critical in Barangay Ginebra’s hopes of ending a five-year PBA title drought.
He also cited the late-acquisition of Josh Urbiztondo from Barako Bull during the quarterfinals made a world of difference.
“I think the veterans like Kerby Raymundo, Jayjay, I mean those guys are big. Plus Josh, who I say is the catalyst, he’s a spitfire. He gives rest to LA (Tenorio), so he’s got the energy and he can light it up (from the three-point zone). Remember, Urbiztondo was the No. 1 player of Barako Bull,” explained the 37-year-old Trillo, whose team holds a 2-0 advantage over Barangay Ginebra in their head-to-head this conference.
Trillo added that in the Finals series, the level of play, defense and every other intangibles rise.
“The stakes are higher because the ultimate goal is to win the championship. For both teams that are playing, concentration becomes more important,” he said.
“I just have to get the guys prepared and understand the situation, limit your weakness and maximize your strengths and at the same time, try to take away their (Gin Kings) strengths,” he added.