MANILA, Philippines – The upcoming Commissioner’s Cup finals showdown between Barangay Ginebra San Miguel and the San Miguel Beermen has the setup of a classic.
Both teams are lined up with rosters that are similarly constructed, making it no surprise that the two franchises have been the most dominant in the PBA for over the last 3 seasons.
Both SMB and Ginebra have superb local bigs (June Mar Fajardo and Greg Slaughter) who are complemented by reliable frontcourt comrades (Arwind Santos and Japeth Aguilar). Both clubs also have imports in Renaldo Balkman and Justin Brownlee who are close to unstoppable in the PBA level, while floor generals Chris Ross and LA Tenorio ignite the high-powered engines for both sides.
With other stars like Marcio Lassiter, Jeff Chan, Scottie Thompson, Alex Cabagnot, and more playing their respective roles, it’s hard to envision a series that doesn’t go at least 6 games – especially when you take into account the history and pride of both teams.
Add championship-experienced head coaches Leo Austria and Tim Cone to the mix, and you’re going to have a chess match for each possession of each quarter of each game in this series.
But regardless of who hoists the Commissioner’s Cup trophy when the dust settles and the confetti falls from the sky, there’s already one clear-cut winner: the SMC group, which continues its dominance over the PBA.
Go back to the start of the 2014-2015 PBA season, and you’ll notice that SMC teams have won 8 of the 10 PBA titles that have been up for grabs. Two weeks from now, that number is going to increase to 9 out of 11.
With the exception of the 2016 and 2017 Governors’ Cup conferences (Ginebra), San Miguel has won the other 6 titles that are mentioned above. The two non-SMC teams to avoid the clean sweep? TNT and Rain or Shine.
It used to be that the SMC and MVP groups were the champions of the PBA, with the other teams in the league playing the role of spoilers every now and then. But recently, the San Miguel Corporation has taken control of the competitive balance in the country’s premier basketball league as its contemporaries try to play catch-up.
Why is that so? One thing’s for sure: cheating has nothing to do with it. For all the quails of fans and opponents claiming that teams like the Beermen and the Gin Kings are favored by the league – specifically, its referees – it’s wiser to credit how these teams have made sure to set themselves up for success now and in the future.
Don’t like it that KIA traded the first overall pick in the draft, eventually becoming Christian Standhardinger to the Beermen for a forgettable type of package? Don’t blame San Miguel; point the finger at the Carnival, Dyip, Sorento, or whatever they want to call themselves this week.
Don’t like that Ginebra, a perennial title contender, landed an established star like Chan to bolster its conference campaign? Ask Phoenix why it traded him for a future draft pick despite the Fuel Masters’ already deep collection of young players.
And if you’re a fan of TNT, Meralco, or NLEX – ask your teams why they didn’t take advantage when opportunity to improve their teams came knocking like the SMC teams did?
Wait a minute: didn’t TNT trade for the top overall pick, that ended up becoming Mo Tautuaa, for a deal involving Larry Rodriguez? Well, the Texters used Tautuaa to attain Terrence Romeo, but even he wasn’t enough to lead his new squad past SMB in the quarterfinals, despite a large lead in the important first game.
Anyone remember what happened after that match, with TNT thinking of filling a protest after blowing a golden opportunity to oust the Beermen? They decided not to push through with it, and rightfully so.
Which gets to my next point: the reason why SMB and Ginebra have not been usurped from their thrones is because these teams have been flat out way better than their opposition. Both clubs weren’t even in the top 4 in the standings after the Commissioner’s Cup elimination round, but when it was time to get to the games that really mattered, they knew how to step up and put an end to their adversaries.
The arrival of imports Balkman and Brownlee have a lot to do with their improved play, but best believe that both guys wouldn’t be as commanding on the court if they didn’t join teams with an established culture and foundation of winning.
Here’s a little secret in the PBA: imports don’t change teams around. Most of the time, they enhance what was already there – the good and the bad.
Those expecting a change in the PBA hierarchy soon will likely end up disappointed. That doesn’t mean the SMC teams’ current run will last forever, because nothing in sports does, but the facts show that San Miguel and Ginebra are currently unrivaled. Even Magnolia, the other franchise of the corporation’s trifecta, is a constant title contender and was just in the finals last conference – losing to San Miguel in 5 games.
TNT will always be a threat, especially with Romeo getting more acclimated to his new teammates, but time and time again the Beermen have proven to have their number.
NLEX is still reeling after losing Kiefer Ravena, who was sure to be this season’s Rookie of the Year and was accelerating his progress as the new face of the PBA. Meralco has made the finals of the last two Governors’ Cup conferences, but it’s become evident that the Bolts need a towering type of import to make it to the final dance.
Teams like Rain or Shine and Alaska are always commendable, but even in the conferences where they have a shot at winning titles, it feels like more a puncher’s chance than an actual opportunity.
We’re in for a great final, with the suspense of who will come out on top between San Miguel and Ginebra being the most thrilling aspect of this current PBA season.
Just don’t forget who the real winners are. – Rappler.com