No rest for weary

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

Top-seed Magnolia and No. 2 San Miguel Beer slug it out in the best-of-seven Finals for the PBA Commissioner’s Cup title starting tonight at the MOA Arena with both teams hungry for victory. The Chicken Timplados Hotshots disposed of overachieving Phoenix in four games in their best-of-three semis series while the Beermen blanked Barangay Ginebra in the other faceoff.

San Miguel took care of business last Sunday and is coming off a six-day rest. Phoenix extended Magnolia to a Game 4 before the Hotshots clinched last Wednesday, meaning they’ll open the Finals with only a one-day break. The Super LPG Fuel Masters didn’t back down from Magnolia’s physicality and dished out as much as they took, leaving the Hotshots somewhat battle-weary. It’ll be a challenge for coach Chito Victolero to get his team ready and energized for San Miguel but a deep rotation should do the trick. The problem is a well-rested San Miguel is just as deep if not deeper.

Magnolia hasn’t won a title since the 2018 Governors’ Cup where Victolero captured his first and only trophy. The wait for another crown has stretched to nine consecutive conferences. There were two Finals appearances since Victolero’s initial championship and Magnolia came up short in both, first to San Miguel, 4-3, in the 2019 Philippine Cup and second, to TNT, 4-1, in the 2021 Philippine Cup. Last season, Magnolia placed third in the Philippine and Commissioner’s Cup but in the Governors’ Cup, the Hotshots didn’t make it to the Final Four. In the offseason OnTour series, Magnolia went undefeated with an 11-0 record. And in this Commissioner’s Cup, the Hotshots have lost only thrice – to Rain or Shine and Meralco in the elims and Phoenix in the semis. San Miguel has also lost thrice – to NLEX, NorthPort and Magnolia. The Beermen have won nine in a row.

Victolero didn’t bring in a single rookie and instead, picked up Joseph Eriobu from the 3x3 ranks and Abu Tratter and Dave Murrell in a trade for Adrian Wong and Keith Zaldivar.  Victolero is banking on an intact core to avenge Magnolia’s loss to San Miguel in the 2019 Philippine Cup Finals.  The Beermen are just as hungry to win. San Miguel took the Philippine Cup title last season then finished fourth in the Commissioner’s Cup and third in the Governors’ Cup. Coach Jorge Gallent took over the reins from Leo Austria in the previous conference and is looking for his first triumph with the franchise.

In the elims, Magnolia was No. 1 in defense, allowing only 88.5 points a game, and No. 1 in rebounding while San Miguel was No. 2 in offense, averaging 107.6 points and No. 1 in field goal percentage.  Victolero has the luxury of playing at a high level with either a small or big lineup. With a small lineup, he’ll go with Mark Barroca, Jio Jalalon and Paul Lee. With a big lineup, he’ll put in Tyler Bey, James Laput or Abu Tratter and Ian Sangalang or Rafi Reavis. Calvin Abueva fits in either way along with Aris Dionisio, Jerrick Ahanmisi and Rome de la Rosa in the wings. In Game 4 of the Phoenix series, Magnolia outscored the Fuel Masters, 42-24, in paint points with Bey and Sangalang doing major damage. Barroca waved his magic wand from the perimeter.

San Miguel never blinked in sweeping Ginebra despite Terrence Romeo’s absence. Bennie Boatwright and June Mar Fajardo complement each other. No one slashes with more authority than CJ Perez and Gallent has deadly weapons in Marcio Lassiter, Jeron Teng, Don Trollano, Jericho Cruz, Mo Tautuaa and Chris Ross. It will be an epic duel pitting San Miguel’s offense versus Magnolia’s defense.

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