For all the mishaps that have happened in the last two seasons, Petron now has all the chance in the world to relive the glory days of the league’s winningest franchise as they take on San Mig Coffee in the Best-of-Seven Governors’ Cup Finals.
Coming off a dominating 3-1 semifinals series triumph against defending champion Rain Or Shine, the Blaze Boosters are in for a tough challenge as they face the Coffee Mixers who finished off Meralco in their own semis series in four games.
It has been 13 years since the two teams face each other in the Finals, the last time they figured out in a championship series was way back in 2000 when Petron, known as the San Miguel Beermen back then led by Lamonth Strothers, beat San Mig Coffee, which carried the name Purefoods during the time and was spearheaded by Derrick Brown, in five games to cop their 15th title in the league.
Fast forward to the present, things are totally different.
The only remnant of that squad that beat San Mig Coffee is Danny Ildefonso and his court general during that series, Olsen Racela, is now on the opponent’s side.
This series is gonna be one for the books as both teams are equally matched up from the point guard to the center spot.
Aside from the highly-anticipated head-on collision of Elijah Millsap and Marqus Blakely,probably the two best imports in the league this conference, another match-up to watch in this series is the first ever face off of 14-time champion coach Tim Cone who looks to tie the record of Baby Dalupan and the Blaze Boosters’ rookie mentor Gee Abanilla who seeks his first ever title in Asia’s first ever professional league.
ELIJAH MILLSAP VS. MARQUS BLAKELY
Elijah Millsap and Marqus Blakely have got to be the two best reinforcements of the Governors’ Cup. Millsap, the 26-year-old D-League player, is averaging 27.2 points, 11.9 rebounds, five assists and 2.2 steals in the season-ending conference while Blakely who returned to the PBA after failing to lead his team to the title a season ago is also putting up an impressive stat line as well with averages of 25 points, 16.2 boards, 4.5 dimes, 1.7 steals and 2.6 blocks a game. The battle between these two ultra-talented imports is going to be a classic match-up and will be the series’ highlight. Will they cancel each other out? Will Millsap lead Petron to their 20th title or will Blakely be able to redeem himself and finish his business in the PBA?
ARWIND SANTOS VS. MARC PINGRIS
Probably two of the best power forwards in the league right now, Arwind Santos and Marc Pingris are gonna go all out for a match-up for the books. Santos, a perennial MVP contender and stat sheet stuffer has changed his game by putting more premium in playing defense and sticking to what he does best and that is playing around the basket, grabbing rebounds and scoring off put backs. Pingris, on the other hand, remains to be San Mig’s anchor on defense and energizer. Going up against each other, both power forwards are expected to be their teams’ main defensive weapons, guarding the imports and top gunners. Can Arwind replicate his amazing performance in his last Finals appearance in the 2011 Governors’ Cup where he helped the Blaze Boosters upend Talk N Text? Or will Ping asset his might and ferociousness to power the Coffee Mixers to their 10th title?
JUNE MAR FAJARDO VS. YANCY DE OCAMPO /RAFI REAVIS
People say that June Mar Fajardo was able to dominate Rain Or Shine during the semis because of his height advantage against Beau Belga and JR Quiñahan, there’s no one in the Elasto Painters’ front line that can stop him in the shaded area. The 23-year-old behemoth averaged 14.7 points and 12.5 rebounds in the semis wherein he had his most impressive performance in Game Two as he scored 26 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. San Mig Coffee, a team known to play suffocating defense has Yancy de Ocampo and Rafi Reavis, two veteran 6-foot-9 centers that can go toe-to-toe against Fajardo. De Ocampo who saw limited action prior the Finals because of an injury and Reavis who plays smart defense will definitely give Fajardo a tough time in his first ever Finals appearance in the PBA.
MARCIO LASSITER VS. JAMES YAP
Marcio Lassiter and James Yap are probably two of the best shooting guards in the league right now. One is a former national team stand out who plays both ends of the court very well while one is a two-time MVP who plays big during big games. In the semis, Lassiter and Yap showed why they are very vital to their teams’ success in the conference. Marcio was simply exceptional in their Game Four win against Rain Or Shine as he went berserk with 27 points and 12 rebounds and made seven triples. James on the other hand was very vital in their series clinching Game Four victory over Meralco as he made 19 points and shot crucial baskets down the stretch. Lassiter and Yap are definitely gonna figure in a shoot-out and scoring battle in this series.
KEYS TO WINNING FOR PETRON:
CONTROL THE REBOUNDS, RUN THE BREAK
Petron is a deadly squad when they are running. They probably have some of the league’s best finishers in Alex Cabagnot, Chris Lutz and Marcio Lassiter plus Elijah Millsap. They can break the game wide open once their transition game starts to click. To be able to do that against a very defensive minded San Mig Coffe squad, the Blaze Boosters must be able to seize advantage in the rebounding department, a task synonymous to the word DIFFICULT as the Coffee Mixers has Blakely who averages 16.2 boards to lead them in the rebounding battle. June Mar Fajardo, the conference’s second best rebounder is in for a tough battle as he needs to lead Petron in the battle for the boards down low to get the Blaze Boosters’ transition game going.
CLAMP DOWN JAMES AND PJ
The duo of James Yap and PJ Simon has got to be one of the most lethal scoring combos in the league. San Mig Coffee is almost unbeatable when these two are on target as they can open things up for their teammates. When their game is on, the Coffee Mixers are in good hands. Petron needs to put premium in playing tough defense against James and PJ for them to get a shot at winning this series and they have Lassiter, Chris Lutz and Ronald Tubid to shadow Yap and Simon all series long. If the Blaze Boosters can limit the scoring of Tim’s top shooting guards, they can win this series.
TRUST EACH OTHER, STICK TO THE SYSTEM
When Petron lost to Rain Or Shine in Game Three of the semis, it was evident that the Blaze Boosters were not playing within their system. There were a lot of one-on-one plays and players trying to do too much that led to a lot of errors. But when they clinched the series in Game Four, Petron’s devotion to their system was very visible as they made life easy for each other by sticking to what works for them and that is by sharing the basketball and trusting one another to make the necessary plays. Against a dreaded defensive San Mig Coffe squad and going up against Tim Cone, one of the best coaches in the land, Petron needs to play within the system that has brought them to the Finals and they need to play as one and trust each other. There’s no room for hero basketball in the Finals. There’s no room for one player to assert his might and tow Petron to the title. What’s important is for them to play as a team and help one another. That’s the key for them to get title number 20.
Petron is gonna win the Governors’ Cup in six games.