MANILA, Philippines - For San Mig Coffee coach Tim Cone, a knockout game is a knockout game, so the safest thing to do is to put Air21 away in Game Four of their PBA Commissioner’s Cup best-of-five semifinal matchup tonight at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The San Mig Coffee Mixers, the league’s most dominant team the last three years, try to finish off the embattled Air21 Express and set up a dream title rematch with the Talk n Text Tropang Texters.
“No doubt, we’d like to finish this in four games. We certainly don’t want to go to a winner-take-all game,” said Cone.
“At this point, we’re in control and we don’t want to give that up. That would happen if we go to a Game Five,” Cone also said.
The Mixers seem to have all figured out how to deal with the Express. Cone and his troops go for the kill in Game Four set at 8 p.m.
After blowing away Game One, 100-103, the Mixers came back methodically in the next two games, fashioning out an 82-75 victory Thursday then repeating with an 84-73 conquest Saturday.
Still, Cone said they would take on Air21 in Game Four with much caution.
“Air21 has pulled surprises all conference long. We need to be on guard,” Cone said.
Technically, the Mixers aren’t expected to change their approach, being so successful in playing tough defense in Games Two or Three where they held the Express to back-to-back conference-low outputs.
“Every game is different. But oftentimes, you keep the same approach. That’s what we’re gonna do. We’ll try to come out, defend, get to the board and try to make their life miserable defending us,” Cone said.
The Mixers are chasing a third straight finals and fifth in the last conferences while Cone is after a league all-time-most 27 finals.
And if ever, San Mig Coffee would arrange a marquee title showdown with Talk n Text, it will involve two teams with a combined nine championships won in six years.
San Mig (then known as B-Meg) and Talk n Text figured in an epic best-of-seven title showdown in the 2012 Commissioner’s Cup that needed five extra minutes to decide the deciding Game Seven. B-Meg import Denzel Bowles nailed two charities with no time left in regulation to force overtime and the Llamados lived on in OT to win the crown.
Will Air21 pull off more surprises to gatecrash the finals?
Coach Franz Pumaren’s main concern is how to keep up with San Mig’s deep rotation and how to neutralize the Mixers’ huge match-up advantages.
Air21 is virtually just a 10-man deep team reduced to nine with the sidelining of Sean Anthony.
On Saturday, things became a lot easier for the Mixers with Anthony sitting out the game due to an injured foot.
“Without Anthony, there’s a lot of pressure on (Wesley) Witherspoon to carry the team. That allowed us to focus on him,” said Cone.
Anthony is a key player who averages 17.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 3.75 blocks.