By TITO S. TALAO
Game Tomorrow (Mall of Asia Arena)
8 p.m. – San Mig vs Petron
Manila, Philippines – No hard fouls. No trash-talking. No push-comes-to-shove. No fights. No team governors screaming at each other. No bashing the referees.
Just high-quality championship basketball in the PBA Governors’ Cup with emphasis on Petron Blaze’s high-octane open court offense and San Mig Coffee’s half-court set and steaming defense.
Sounds a bit boring?
Not really, according to the two head coaches who echoed their players’ vows that “it’s going to be a war.”
Game One of the PLDT-Telpad Best-of-7 Finals is tomorrow, 8 p.m., at the Mall of Asia Arena, the first time the two franchises will meet after the 2000 Governors’ Cup.
Back then, San Miguel Beer, coached by Derrick Brown and reinforced with Lamont Strothers, beat Purefoods, with Derrick Pumaren and Derrick Brown, in five games.
Much has changed over those 13 years.
Only Danny Ildefonso, who won the first of back-to-back MVP awards that season, remains from the two teams’ roster of players.
Purefoods team manager Rene Pardo, along with Hotdogs star Alvin Patrimonio, are team officials with San Mig Coffee, while Gee Abanilla, an assistant with Pumaren, has graduated to become Petron coach.
San Miguel Corporation had since also bought the Purefoods franchise.
“Alang sister teams dito. Laban talaga,” said two-time MVP James Yap during yesterday’s Finals press conference at the Sambokojin Restaurant at Eastwood City in Libis, Quezon City.
“Bibigyan namin sila ng magandang laban,” vowed Petron’s 6-foot-10 rookie Junmar Fajardo, the recipient of Ildefonso’s tireless mentoring in recent months.
“One-hundred percent kami,” said San Mig forward Marc Pingris. “First game pa lang, pukpukan agad.”
The sentiment was shared by all the other players present, from Petron’s Alex Cabagnot, Marcio Lassiter, Elijah Millsap and Arwind Santos to San Mig’s Alex Mallari, Joe Devance and Marqus Blakely.
Mallari has a personal motivation going to the series.
“I hate them all,” Mallari said in jest. The defensive guard was drafted by Petron but later traded to San Mig.
“We’re all sportsmen and we’re all professionals,” said Abanilla. “I think we all know what’s at stake here.”
What’s at stake for Cone is a 15th championship that would tie him with the legendary Virgilio ‘Baby’ Dalupan.
“I try to set aside personal goals,” said Cone, who admitted nonetheless than Dalupan is a long-time idol for him.
What could be more difficult to set aside is Santos’ quest for a first MVP trophy even as two other teammates – Cabagnot and Lassiter – have drawn close enough to him in statistics to steal the crucial Best Player of the Conference award.
“Inaamin ko na sumasagi sa isip ko; ipinagdadasal ko pa,” said Santos. “Pero di ako makasariling tao at yung kapakanan ng team ang iniisip ko. Kung sakaling dumating, maraming salamat.”
Cone said the presence of 6-foot-9 Yancy de Ocampo, Rafi Reavis and Devance gives them bigger size than Rain or Shine, Petron’s semifinal opponent, in the match-up with Fajardo.
Still, Cone admitted, even that may not be enough.
“We may have to build a house inside the key and have Junmar go around it,” said Cone.
Both coaches agreed to cut officiating some slack “as long as the refs stay consistent.”
PBA commissioner Chito Salud cautioned against expecting a sweep “like the first two conference finals,” hinting of an extended series between two evenly-matched teams.
While no script has been written for the finals, Devance lost no time laying down the climax.
As everybody listened, Devance outlined how it would be: “It’s Game Seven with two seconds to go. Petron is up by one when Marqus is fouled. He makes the first free throw and misses the second. I come in however and tip it in and we win by two points.”
Everybody applauds except those from Petron who promised to turn Devance’s dream into a nightmare.