By Vivem Soriano
Eagle News Service
The San Miguel Beermen are looking to defend their crown and continue their quest for a rare grand slam as they are set to battle sister team and long-time rivals Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings in Game 1 of the 2018 PBA Commissioner’s Cup at the Araneta Colisuem tonight at 7:00 p.m.
SMB will be banking on their towering center and 4-time defending PBA Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo.
Fajardo is not alone though.
SMB boasts of an almost unstoppable and overpowering lineup composed of 2013 PBA MVP Arwind Santos, sharpshooter Marcio Lassiter, this season’s first overall rookie pick Christian Standhardinger, last year’s Commissioner’s Cup Finals MVP Alex Cabagnot and 2-time Philippine Cup Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year Chris Ross.
Reinforcing the Beermen is import Renaldo Balkman who also leads the league in scoring this conference with an average of more than 29 points per game.
Coaching SMB is reigning 3-time PBA Coach of the Year Leo Austria, who is undefeated in 6 career finals appearances, all with SMB, since taking over the Beermen in 2014.
Meanwhile, Ginebra will rely on their gigantic frontcourt composed of Greg Slaughter and Japeth Aguilar.
Veteran guard and 2017 Governors’ Cup Finals MVP LA Tenorio will continue to lead the Ginebra backcourt together with rebounding and defensive phenom guard Scottie Thompson.
Recently acquired Jeff Chan will look to continue his hot-shooting from downtown for the crowd favorites Ginebra.
Import Justin Brownlee will be looking to give Ginebra a third championship after leading the club to back-to-back Governors’ Cup titles in 2016 and 2017.
Leading Ginebra from the sidelines will be Tim Cone, the PBA’s winningest coach. He will be looking to add to his legendary and impressive haul of 20 championships which includes two Grand Slam seasons, the first one in 1996 with Alaska and in 2014 with the San Mig-Purefoods-Magnolia franchise.
Dream finals matchup
This series is considered by many as a dream finals matchup.
The San Miguel Beermen is the league’s winningest club and the only remaining founding and original franchise. This current generation of SMB led by Fajardo is considered by many, including by Ginebra coach Cone, as possibly the best and greatest PBA team of all time.
Ginebra meanwhile continues to be the most popular ball club in the country. They set a PBA attendance record in Game 7 of their 2017 finals matchup against Meralco, drawing a crowd of 54,068 at the gigantic Philippine Arena.
The last finals matchup between these two teams was during the 2016-17 Philippine Cup championship, which the Beermen won in 5 games. SMB holds a 4-1 record against Ginebra when battling one another in a finals series.
This series also offers two highly anticipated player matchups.
Fajardo vs Slaughter
For the first time, Fajardo and Slaughter, the pro league’s most dominant big men, will battle one another in a PBA Finals in a rivalry that goes all the way back since their college days. In 2009, Slaughter’s University of the Visayas defeated Fajardo and the University of Cebu in the finals of the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation championships.
After leading San Miguel Alab Pilipinas to the 2017-18 ASEAN Basketball League title, former teammates Balkman and Brownlee will now look to one up the other and lead their current PBA squads to another title.
This will be SMB’s 40th Finals appearance, a league record. They will also be gunning for their 26th championship, also another league record. They have won 6 of the last 10 conference titles since 2015, including four straight Philippine Cup crowns.
Meanwhile, this will be Ginebra’s 24th finals appearance, winning 10 titles including the last two Governors’ Cup. Their 2016 championship snapped an 8-year title drought.
Games 1 to 4 will be played at the Araneta Colisuem in Quezon City. If necessary, Game 5 will again be staged in Araneta before shifting to a Game 6 at the Mall of Asia.