THE PBA’s two most successful franchises seek to add to their respective trophy cases as the Philippine Cup Finals unfold with Game One at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
San Miguel Beer and Alaska, which have 35 championships combined, face off at 5 p.m. on Sunday, aiming for a morale-boosting victory to jumpstart the best-of-seven series.
The Beermen, who own the most titles in the league with 21, are the defending champions, but suffered a major blow as June Mar Fajardo hurt his left knee in Game Six of the semifinals against Rain or Shine.
That gives the Aces, running second in the championship list with 14, a huge advantage as they gun for their first crown since the 2013 Commissioner’s Cup and their first all-Filipino title since 2000, the longest drought in the league.
“It’s still anybody’s ballgame, but it’s hard to face Alaska especially with the kind of defense they’re applying,” SMB coach Leo Austria said. “But we will try our best to give a good series.”
“Whatever adversities we’re facing right, we have to face it,” he added.
Alaska proved it can beat a Fajardo-led SMB side as the Aces turned back the Beermen, 103-97, in the elimination round even with the reigning league MVP posting a career-high 43 points on top of 20 boards.
But the Alex Compton-coached Aces are facing a somewhat different SMB crew whose offense will now revolve around Arwind Santos, Marcio Lassiter, and Alex Cabagnot.
“Our focus is on getting our game right and being prepared either way,” Aces big man Sonny Thoss said. “Regardless of what happens, we're just going to come prepared and bring our game.”
Energetic forwards Calvin Abueva and Vic Manuel lead the Aces’ balanced attack, but it’s the still suffocating defense as a unit that makes the biggest difference.
The Aces, who booked the first finals ticket after dispatching GlobalPort in five games, hope to pounce on a weary SMB side that had to go through six grueling games against the Elasto Painters, ending just last Friday.
“We didn’t have enough time to rest, but I hope dahil may Petron naman kami, siguro magre-refuel kami,” Austria said in jest.
“This is the finals, so they're going to come and bring it,” Thoss said. “They're not going think they're tired, they're not going think anything. Whoever's gonna come on the floor, they're gonna play and they're gonna give it their all. So that's what we're expecting. We gotta counter that with our energy as well.”