By Karl Batungbacal
The San Miguel Beermen are once again on the cusp of another Grand Slam after closing out their series with the TNT KaTropa in 6 games.
From the very start, the KaTropa were heavily favored to win the title after handily beating San Miguel in Game 1 with a score of 109-96. They rode on their strengths which includes the overwhelming presence of Terrence Jones and a solid core of shooters with RR Pogoy, Troy Rosario, and Jayson Castro.
However, the championship experience of San Miguel allowed them to find the cracks in the KaTropa’s game plan and were able to mount a comeback and take Game 2. At that point, casual observers didn’t feel surprised with how it turned out because the Beermen are known to make memorable comebacks when it matters most. Chris McCullough’s double-double outing led the way for the Game 2 victory, essentially making it a best of 5 series.
TNT’s Game 3 victory would be their last as the Beermen, under coach Leo Austria’s masterful tutelage, were able to break the TNT defense wide open in the next three games en route to the title.
Prior to Game 6, the Beermen faced controversy as Arwind Santos was caught on camera making a “monkey” gesture towards TNT’s Terrence Jones which caused social media users to call for the controversial player’s suspension. Santos, who’s used to being a part of controversies at this point in his career, was initially unapologetic for his actions but later on apologized through his social media. He was fined P200,000, ordered to have 100 hours of community service, and to undergo counseling by the PBA. No suspension came out of the incident and the social media mob was not satisfied with the ruling but the series had to continue.
From the start, TNT looked disheartened out on the court and it definitely affected their play on the court. Terrence Jones was the only bright spot for the KaTropa with his 41 points and 12 rebounds. Even Jayson Castro couldn’t bail them out of the predicament they were in earlier on in the game. The 2013 and 2015 best point guard in Asia and consistent FIBA Mythical Five selection was left frustrated on the court, especially in the late stages of the game. The missed calls and lack of activity from the rest of the KaTropa led him to commit three consecutive fouls which took him out of the game.
With Castro out of the game, TNT forgetting how to shoot, and SMB finding their groove, the championship was a lock. The Beermen kept pouring their offense on the KaTropa as every shot made only served to demoralize the KaTropa even further. Christian Standhardinger’s defense on Jones came through, SMB’s shooters rained threes, and Chris McCullough proved he can go toe-to-toe with Jones.
More surprising is the revelation of the new Terrence Romeo, whose efforts were recognized by receiving the Finals MVP award. The selection was a surprise to be sure but it can be argued that it was because of his renewed efforts to keeping San Miguel in the game at key points in the series and recognition for his stepping back from the spotlight. Throughout his PBA career, Romeo was maligned and badmouthed for his refusal to be a team player. Since being traded to the Beermen in December, Romeo has been surprisingly effective. Coach Austria has become known for integrating different players into the San Miguel system and Romeo is no different.
For the Beermen, this title proves that they are a cut above the rest in the league at this point. Viewers of this conference, especially those in the finals, were quick to dismiss the Beermen after that Game 1 loss but they have proven that for all the elimination round success of the KaTropa, a 7 game series with the Beermen is a whole different beast in and of itself.