By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter
COMPETITION in the PBA Philippine Cup is now down to two protagonists with the TnT Tropang Giga and Magnolia Pambansang Manok Hotshots disputing the title.
The best-of-seven finals series of the ongoing Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) tournament begins on Wednesday at the Don Honorio Ventura State University Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga, with the battling teams expressing readiness to get it going.
TnT and Magnolia are two of the more consistent teams in the tournament. Even when the league had to take a one-month break because of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic-related concerns, they stayed the course and were steady fixtures at the top of the standings in the elimination phase.
The Tropang Giga (10-1) and Hotshots (8-3) wound up as the top and third seeds, respectively, heading into the playoffs, where they in turn showed tremendous resolve and go-getting mindset to end up where they are now.
Chot Reyes-coached TnT was pretty much untouchable in the classification phase then dethroned erstwhile defending champions Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Kings in the quarterfinals.
It was greatly tested in the semifinals against the San Miguel Beermen, but pulled through in its rubber match Game Seven last Sunday to book its place in the finals.
Magnolia, for its part, had its highs and lows in the eliminations, but made sure it stayed in the mix with the top teams. In the playoffs, the Hotshots stepped up their game further, defeating the Rain or Shine Elastopainters in the quarterfinals and eliminating second seeds Meralco Bolts in the semifinals, 4-2.
In the finals, the teams are expecting a competitive contest, recognizing that they are both highly motivated and determined to see their respective causes through.
“We are relieved to have moved past San Miguel. But the job is only half done. There is still another huge mountain to climb that is playing very, very well in Magnolia,” said TnT’s Reyes after their Game Seven victory over San Miguel.
The Tropang Giga defeated the Hotshots in their lone encounter in the elimination round, 83-76, but Mr. Reyes said the finals is a whole new ball game and anything can happen.
“There is a reason they (Hotshots) are in the finals. Any finals, any competition, you will never know,” the TnT coach said.
“When teams play, it is always a 50-50 chance for them. The same goes in the finals. We just have to focus on what we need to do as a team,” he added.
For Magnolia big man Ian Sangalang, when teams make it to the finals, it should expect nothing less than a tough challenge.
“The fact that they (TnT) made it to the finals showed they are deserving to be there. It is going to be a grind against them,” he said.
“We are going to prepare hard,” Magnolia coach Chito Victolero, for his part, said. “[TnT] is a strong and deep team and we have to be ready.
TnT is seeking its sixth All-Filipino title and eighth PBA crown in franchise history. It was last a champion in 2015 with the Commissioner’s Cup.
Magnolia, on the other hand, is in search of Philippine Cup title number seven and 15th league championship. The Hotshots’ most recent title was the 2018 Governors’ Cup.
Game One of the best-of-seven PBA Philippine Cup finals between TnT and Magnolia is set for 6 p.m.
ABUEVA LEADS BPC RACE
Meanwhile, Magnolia’s Calvin Abueva continues to lead the best player of the conference (BPC) race.
In the latest update of the league, the Magnolia forward accumulated an average of 34.2 statistical points (SPs) by the end of their semifinal campaign, built on averages of 15.2 points, 10 rebounds, 2.8 assists, one steal, and 1.1 block shots.
Northport Batang Pier’s Robert Bolick is second with 33.7 (SPs), but has seen his bid affected greatly after they were eliminated in the quarterfinals.
Mr. Abueva’s Magnolia teammate Mr. Sangalang is third with 33 SPs.
TnT rookie Mikey Williams (32 SPs) fell from second place to no. 4 after struggling early in the Tropang Giga’s semifinal series against San Miguel. He, however, was named player of the week for the period of Oct. 13 to 17.
Completing the top five in the BPC race is San Miguel’s June Mar Fajardo with 31.8 SPs.