SAN MIGUEL Beer and Alaska begin their best-of-seven titular showdown for the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Philippine Cup on Wednesday—a battle of the two most successful franchises in the league.
The Beermen and the Aces clash at 7 p.m. at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, with both coaches taking the series opener on a different approach.
“Game One is very important because if you win it, it will boost your morale, your confidence. Maybe you can dictate the tempo [of the series] if you get to win Game One,” San Miguel Beer’s rookie Head Coach Leo Austria said.
But for Alaska’s Alex Compton, Game One is just an ordinary game of the series that they need to win in order to get closer to the ultimate prize—the championship.
“This is a seven-game series so I don’t think winning Game One will win the series. We just have to pull off four wins to win,” said Compton, who, like Austria, is a first-timer in the PBA finals.
“If you win Game One, the next thing we will do is to practice, review the video and correct our mistakes if there are any,” Compton added.
San Miguel Beer and Alaska took different paths to the finals. The Beermen had a dominating semifinal series against Talk ’N Text and won it via a sweep.
The Aces’ ride was a bit bumpier and more protracted, as they needed six grueling games to silence the pesky Rain or Shine in their own semifinal encounter.
The Beermen may be a little fresher entering the series as they enjoyed a long break, but the Aces could be sharper and will be riding the momentum of their Game Six win against the Elasto Painters last Sunday.
“We were able to rest our injured players at napanood namin sila [Alaska] against Rain or Shine,” said Austria, who was Compton’s mentor when the former was the head coach of Welcoat Paints (now Elasto Painters), while the latter was one of his assistants in 2006 and 2007.
“Kung may advantage ba kami, we don’t know. Our goal now is just to win Game One to have that advantage in the series,” Austria said, the PBA Rookie of the Year in 1985.
The series also focuses on the matchup between San Miguel’s June Mar Fajardo and Alaska’s Calvin Abueva, the top 2 candidates for the Best Player of the Conference award.
Although they may not guard each other most of the time, Fajardo and Abueva will be the focal points of their respective teams’ offense and defense.
Fajardo, the league’s leading scorer (19.2), rebounder (12.5) and shotblocker (2.1), will be the main target of the Aces defense and Compton admitted that the 25-year-old Cebuano slotman couldn’t be stopped by two or even three defenders.
Sonny Thoss, Eric Menk and maybe Samigue Eman could take turns in limiting the output of Fajardo, the league’s reigning Most Valuable Player (MVP), while Abueva would be providing extra help at the front.
San Miguel forward Arwind Santos also poses a big problem for the Aces, as the 2013 MVP had an impressive semifinal series against the Tropang Texters.
But Santos needs to work doubly hard as Austria is expected to put him against Abueva, who averages 15.8 points and 11.6 rebounds despite being an undersized forward at 6-foot-2.
Austria also pointed to Jayvee Casio as one of the key players for Alaska in the series.