|Petron coach Gee Abanilla and San Mig coach Tim Cone shake hands ahead of the PBA Governors Cup Finals between the Blaze Boosters and the Coffee Mixers. Photo by Nuki Sabio, PBA Images.
MANILA, Philippines - Thirteen years after they last met in the finals, Petron Blaze and San Mig Coffee go at each other again in a dream title duel between two teams that have lived up to their potential and now raring to go all the way to the championship.
The Boosters and the Mixers, with their stellar casts led by reinforcements who are chief contenders for the Best Import award, clash in Game One of the PLDT Telpad PBA Governors Cup Finals at 8 p.m. tomorrow at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
It’s a series that’s long time in the making.
For despite their talents, resources and competitiveness, it’s the first time both teams reached the Last Dance together since San Miguel Beer (now Petron) and Purefoods (now San Mig Coffee) faced off for the 2000 Governors Cup crown.
Before that, the two ball clubs had four previous titular showdowns. Petron emerged triumphant in four of those five championship series.
“These two teams, without a doubt, are the most consistent teams in the conference, and it’s not surprising that they’re meeting in the finals,” said PBA commissioner Chito Salud during the pre-finals press conference yesterday at Sambokojin restaurant in Eastwood City, Quezon City.
The consensus is that it’s a tossup between the two teams that have been on dominant runs from the elimination round.
Petron has lost just twice in the entire run of the tourney while San Mig Coffee has also dropped only two games since recovering from a scrambling 1-3 start in the conference.
“Petron hasn’t really had a hard time. They’ve been in smooth sailing. They’re really gonna be a tough opponent for us. We’ll be the underdogs, but we’ll take on that and go at them,” said San Mig Coffee coach Tim Cone.
“They’re deep and coach Tim (Cone) has been around for a long time aiming for a 15th championship. It says a lot. This series against San Mig Coffee is really cut out for us,” said Petron Blaze coach Gee Abanilla.
Forget it if these two teams are sister ball clubs under the giant SMC umbrella.
“First, there’s the winning bonus at stake here. They’ll not share that. They’re going to fight for that. You don’t get anything if you lose,” said current PBA board chairman and SMC official Robert Non.
“Coming from the outside, I was shocked how much rivalry they have. I was surprised how distant they are to each other. We’re not friendly to each other. We’re not gonna be friendly in this series. We’re gonna go at each other,” said Cone.
“Talagang walang sister team-sister team dito,” said San Mig top gun James Yap.
The series could be more about Marcus Blakely trying to finish an unfinished business, Alex Mallari out to make Petron Blaze sorry for shipping him out, former Gilas mainstays Marcio Lassiter and Chris Lutz chasing a first PBA championship and Junmar Fajardo probably getting into full bloom in the series.
“Last year was a disappointment for me and my team. Back here and having another shot is a good opportunity for me,” said Blakely, coming up a game short of leading the Mixers to the championship last year.
“I hate them all,” said Mallari in expressing a great desire to pull one against his original team that traded him over to San Mig Coffee before the second conference.
Cone said much focus could really be on Fajardo.
“Junmar is a big threat. He’ll dominate our pre-game talk,” said Cone of the 6-foot-10 Cebuano behemoth who’s on a breakthrough run in this conference.
“I saw how (Rain or Shine center) Beau (Belga) play very physical on Junmar, but it was not successful. We have to find some other ways how to stop him,” said San Mig forward Joe Devance.
Cone, however, believes he has the materials to contain Fajardo.
“We have a lot more than what Rain or Shine had. We’re gonna contest them a little more. Yancy (de Ocampo) has had health problem but he’s healthy now. He’s gonna be a factor. And we also have Rafi (Reavis),” said Cone.
Practically all the players expect a battle.
“I have played against coach Tim in the finals and they beat us. He’s a good coach, good at making adjusments in every direction. But coach Gee is also good on adjustments. It’s gonna be a coaching battle and I’m happy to be part of it,” said Petron playmaker Alex Cabagnot.
“I’ve watched them and seen how hard they play each game. It’s not gonna be easy. To win the series, we have to play hard,” said Petron import Elijah Millsap.
“Pukpukan ‘to,” said Petron forward Arwind Santos.
“It’s a fight for sure,” said Blakely.