Since the birth of the Philippine Basketball Association 43 years ago in 1975, San Miguel Beer which remains the oldest team of the nine clubs that shed off their amateur status and organized the country’s and Asia’s first pro-league, has so far made it to the finals 40 times.
Out of these total championship appearances, the Beermen, have won 24 plums to date, the most be any team in the local play-for-pay league.
That 24 title victories include the Philippine Cup or the All-Filipino Conference which the Beermen won seven times, including an uninterrupted string of four straight years starting in 2014 until this year.
Why this reporter is writing this?
Simply to emphasize that the Ramon S. Ang-owned franchise is putting up that high stake in its title chase for another championship against sister team Barangay Ginebra in the on-going PBA Commissioner’s Cup best-of-seven finals.
The Gin Kings are, who actually are the second oldest in the three clubs carrying the San Miguel Corp. banner in the country’s premier pro-league, acquiring a franchise four years following the play-for-pay’s founding in 1979.
Purefoods, now Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok, followed suit eight years after in 1987.
For these reasons, and the fact that the Beermen are still the food and beverage firm’s flag carrier in all the sports the company is involved in, coach Leo Austria’ boys are not expected not to take the challenge being waged by the ‘Johnny come lately’ sister team Kings.
Notwithstanding the humiliating 28-point annihilation coach Tim Cone and Justin Brownlee dealt them in Game 1 on Friday last week.
In last Sunday’s Game 2, the Beermen returned the compliment by giving the Kings a dose of their own medicine this time with sentinel Alex Cabagnot leading the attack by scoring a career-high 33 points in SMB’s 25-point 134-109 triumph to even the series at one-game apiece.
Cabagnot scored 22 points right in the first half as the Beermen proved they aren’t to be counted out at this stage of the title play-off that was, in he process, reduced to whichever team wins three of the next five meetings winning the crown being defended by the San Miguel.
Tension rose late in the fourth period when Arwind Santos was ejected for a flagrant foul penalty 2 following bumping Scottie Thompson, and Chris Ross soon followed him to the showers after being slapped with a second technical foul 15 seconds later.
Santos argued the referee’s decision to throw him out of the playing court saying later it was a normal foul.
Ross, for his part, said: “Refs gave me two technicals for doing nothing.”
Mang Kiko, a cab driver and avid Ginebra fan, whom this reporter flagged down on his way home said chuckling: “Nautakan ni Thompson si Arwind at ang referee. Ordinaryong foul lang yun eh. Nag-flop at bumagsak siya at di bumangon agad. So, flagrant foul 2 ang tinawag.”
Cone, the league’s winningest coach with 18 title wins to date, said by way of describing the intense rivalry between the two sister teams said after his loss: “We’re sister teams but we aren’t friendly.’’
Austria, meanwhile, was approached by long-time Ginebra playing- coach Robert “Sonny” Jaworski, the author of the Kings’ “never say die” attitude, to congratulate him for a job well done.
It was the Beermen’s turn to shoot the lights out in the series, converting 61 percent from the field in the first half alone where they led by as many as 31 points after a jumper by June Mar Fajardo in the second quarter that saw the Beermen score 41 points in the period.
They had 75 points by the end of the24 minutes of play before a crowd of over 15,000 fans at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Six Beermen turned in double figure each with Fajardo contributing had 25 points and eight rebounds, rookie Christian Standhardinger, Marcio Lassiter, and import Renaldo Balkman adding 20 points piece and Santos 14.
After a 42-point effort in Game One, Brownlee finished with 29 points, six rebounds, five assists, and three steals before fouling out late in the fourth. Joe Devance and Scottie Thompson had 16 points each.
This is the Beermen’s and the Kings’ fifth meeting in the finals with SMB prevailing fourth times in 2017 Philippine Cup, 4-1; 2009 Fiesta Cup, 4-3; 2007 Philippine Cup, 4-2; and 1989 Reinforced Conference, 4-1.
The only time Ginebra emerged champion was in the 2001 All-Filipino, 4-2.
Sunday’s San Miguel Game 2 win, according to Santos allayed fears advanced by some quarters that the Beermen, are, once again headed to be frustrated in their chase for their second Grand Slam, they first on in 1979.
Grudge underscores the match up, too, as Barangay Ginebra was the team that derailed the defending Commissioner’s Cup champions’ bid for a historic Grand Slam in last year’s Governors’ Cup.
Austria’s journey to, likewise, win his seventh straight championship, continues, the SMB team captain assured.
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