The two greatest words in sports: Game. Seven. It seems only fitting to reach this point with how much back and forth occurred in the first six games. After Magnolia and San Miguel split the first two, many thought it would be a repeat of last season’s finals with the Beermen cruising to three straight wins. But Magnolia showed their resilience and here we are.
After every win where it seemed like the winning side figured everything out, the opposing team would throw a wrench in their plans and come out the victor. Not only has the back and forth come on the court, but on the sidelines as well. Leo Austria and Chito Victolero showcased their ability to make adjustments from game-to-game, quarter-to-quarter and even timeout-to-timeout. But it all boils down to this final game. Let’s see what each team will need to do to take the crown.
What does Magnolia need to do to win?
They will probably lean on what they’ve done best since last season: tough defense and pushing the pace. They will want to establish their “turboball” early by attacking San Miguel’s slow transition defense whether from live turnovers or even rebounds off misses. It’s worked for them all series long, no reason to think it won’t work here. Yes, they’re no slouches on halfcourt execution but they probably don’t want to be baited into the Beermen’s preferred style of play.
Defensively, it all ends and begins with how they can contain June Mar Fajardo. It’s easier said than done but they’ve stifled San Miguel’s offense three times already so it’s not impossible. They have to blindside him, deny the ball, deny passing angles and generally make life hell. As such, their bigs have to manage their fouls well, something they failed to do the past two games where they were in constant foul trouble. Guards and wings will have to dive in and contribute as well.
Speaking of the guards, they better hope all four members of their vaunted backcourt will come out firing. Paul Lee hasn’t been the same since sustaining separate wrist and shoulder injuries. Jio Jalalon and Justin Melton have had a few big games but the production hasn’t been consistent enough. Mark Barroca has probably been their most consistent player but is coming off his first subpar game. All of them will have something to prove.
What does San Miguel need to do to win?
Consistent movement will be crucial for the defending champs. The addition of constant cutting and diving into the paint in the middle of the series has worked wonders for them in freeing up Fajardo down low. He’s had more space to not only score but find passing angles and position himself for putbacks. They can’t get into the trap of dumping it to him and just waiting for the kick out. They have to make the defense move instead of settling for jumpers.
Terrence Romeo and Christian Standhardinger will likely be the x-factors for them. A bad start by the second unit has contributed a lot to how they lost three of their games in the series. The aforementioned players are pretty much the engine that makes the bench work so they have to come in and make an instant impact on both ends.
Lastly, they just need to play with a sense of urgency and high energy. They have had one too many slow starts only to try and make furious rallies in the second half or so. Game 5 should be a reminder that it’s not that simple anymore and Magnolia is able to take those punches and still win. Hence, the energy from both the starters and initial second stringers will be crucial.
For both teams…
Simply put, it’s crucial to get a better start for both teams. It’s been a consistent theme in the series that the team that builds themselves a hole at the beginning of the game finds it a lot harder to claw back and steal it. It’s pretty much game over if San Miguel can get a large double-digit lead or Magnolia dictates the pace and establishes control. That’s why we might already
It’s interesting to note that the last time these two teams faced off in a Game 7 was the 2013 Governor’s Cup when they were still known as the Petron Blaze Boosters and San Mig Coffee Mixers. Marquis Blakely and Elijah Millsap were at the height of their powers then. It’s also interesting that it played out pretty much the same way: both teams traded wins until San Mig Coffee won two straight to clinch the title and begin their four straight conference championship run and a grand slam. For Petron, it was the beginning of Fajardo’s dominance as he started his MVP run the following season.
There is a lot on the line in this one. Will it be the beginning of another championship run for Magnolia? Not only will they take revenge from last season’s route, but they also get the distinction of beating both Ginebra and San Miguel in their most dominant conference. That would be quite the feat.
Or will San Miguel make history once again as the only five straight Philippine Cup champions in history? Will the Death Five, at their most vulnerable with their age and all mileage, be able to stave off father time again and go for one more run?
We’ll find out soon enough in what should be an intense final matchup.