TIM Cone knows San Mig Coffee faces a huge problem when it plays Petron in the Finals of the PBA-PLDT Telpad Governors Cup Finals -- literally and figuratively.
Up against the streaking, top-seeded team in the season-ending conference, the Mixers will also be put to test as they try to find ways to contain dominant rookie big man June Mar Fajardo.
This season's No. 1 overall pick had been almost unstoppable in the Boosters’ semifinals series against deposed champion Rain or Shine, punishing the Elasto Painters by repeatedly scoring inside to finish with averages of 14.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 1.5 block shots in the four-game affair.
Although Cone admitted the Mixers have a "little bit of size than Rain or Shine," he still expects the Cebuano behemoth to be a thorn in the team’s side beginning in Friday’s Game One of the best-of-seven title series at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“We’ll be able to contest him a little bit more than Rain or Shine did. But a guy like him, you have to scheme, you have to figure out ways to get him out of his comfort zone and spots. That’s what we’ll try to do defensively, he’s developed into a huge, huge threat,” said the eloquent San Mig Coffee mentor, who’s eyeing a record-tying 15th league championship to catch the great Virgilio `Baby’ Dalupan.
“You know how good a player he is when you spend a lot of time talking about him in your practices or in your pre-games, and June Mar will dominate our pre-game talks, so that goes to show how good a player he has become.”
Petron counterpart Gee Abanilla acknowledged how huge a factor the 24-year-old Fajardo has become in the team’s first-ever Finals appearance since winning this same conference two years ago.
But he said the Boosters are more than just about Fajardo, reminding everyone who cares to listen the team has in its roster players as talented as Alex Cabagnot, Marcio Lassiter, Chris Lutz, Ronald Tubid, Doug Kramer, top MVP contender Arwind Santos, and import Elijah Millsap who all complement each other that resulted in the longest winning streak in franchise history of 11 games, according to PBA chief statistician Fidel Mangonon III.
“I’m not afraid to draw strength from other people. I have a good team right now and June Mar is developing into the kind of player we really envisioned,” said Abanilla, gunning for his first league title right in his rookie conference as head coach.
“Talent will win you some games, but having that chemistry and having that basketball smart can win you a championship.”
That same basketball smart, plus the experience, are plus factors which Cone and the Mixers have too, according to Abanilla.
“In terms of the manpower that we have, parehas lang naman. But `yung experience ni coach Tim and San Mig will be a factor.”
Yet not lost on Cone’s thought was the fact the Boosters dominated the conference by losing just two of their 14 games while going on an 11-game win streak bridging the eliminations and the playoffs.
“Petron has not really had a hard time this conference. They’ll obviously be a really, really tough opponent for us,” said Cone. “I’m not into the underdog, overdog kind of thing, but it’s kind of obvious who’s the underdog in this thing. But we’re ready to take on that mentally and go at them.”
Marc Pingris, the man whom Fajardo admitted is the one he worries most guarding him in the paint, simply consoled Cone and the rest of the Mixers, saying be it Petron or whichever team, there is not going to be an easy championship series.
“Wala namang madali sa Finals. Kailangan talaga lima `yung nagta-trabaho sa team. Importante `yun,” said the Gilas Pilipinas mainstay.