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Jun 21, 2017
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We're hours away from the championship series between the San Miguel Beermen and TNT KaTropa.

The former will be competing for its second consecutive title (2017 PBA Philippine Cup trophy) and another Grand Slam, while the latter makes a comeback to the big dance after its last crown in the same conference two years ago. Here are the other storylines that will define the Commissioner's Cup Finals:

While FHM is one to make bold predictions, this particular matchup is a hard one to call. Both the Beermen and the KaTropa are powerhouse squads, while their respective imports are forces to be reckoned with.

That said, we'll just expound on each team's strong case for the championship.


Why the San Miguel Beermen will win

The Beermen are back in familiar territory, this time with a chance of winning the conference that has eluded Leo Austria since his appointment as head coach in 2014.

From the way they've played for most of the tournament, the Beermen are headed for another championship, which would be the fifth for Austria and his talented team that has become the PBA's benchmark.

TNT KaTropa may have beaten them in the elimination round, but San Miguel is a team that thrives during this point of a PBA conference. Their four-game disposal of the Star Hotshots in the semifinals should indicate how the Beermen are favored to win a record 24th title in the best-of-seven title series that starts today at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Their Starting 5 is perhaps the league's best. June Mar Fajardo remains the major force behind the Beermen's recent success, but Alex Cabagnot and Chris Ross have been the catalysts on both ends, evident in their joint hold of the lead in the race for the Best Player of the Conference award.

Cabagnot has been the silent contributor for San Miguel and has a penchant for delivering in the clutch, while Ross has been the all-around player that fuels attacks. Marcio Lassiter's outside shooting and Arwind Santos' intangibles have also brought some importance to the way SMB has won its games.

The past few days have left the Beermen in the dark as far as which import TNT will field for the finals. But it is looking like a minor obstacle in Austria's drive for five with Fajardo and Charles Rhodes expected to make the big Joshua Smith and possibly standby import Mike Myers work for their stats.

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Add a determined Rhodes, who will play his first finals in a nine-year professional career that has brought him to Europe and South Korea, and San Miguel is on its way to a second straight title this season, provoking talks of a possible Grand Slam.

Unfortunately, TNT KaTropa seems destined to be a stepping stone in San Miguel's dream of a triple crown.

 

Why TNT KaTropa will win

The KaTropa is supposed to be doing something else rather than playing in its first PBA Finals in two years. But with the manner of how they survived two formidable teams on their way to the big stage, TNT is surely determined to be more than just a stepping stone to the San Miguel Beermen's bid to win the Commissioner's Cup.

The KaTropa survived the quarterfinals, thanks in part to a big boo-boo by the Meralco Bolts' Chris Newsome in Game 3. They overcame an injury to import Joshua Smith to eliminate the top seed Barangay Ginebra San Miguel in the semifinals.

This TNT squad is more than capable of delivering a title in only the second conference of rookie coach Nash Racela. History has shown that the KaTropa can give the Beermen a run for their money.

In the Philippine Cup semifinals, TNT was so close to sending SMB home, leading 3-2 in the best-of-seven and ahead by double-digits in the third quarter of Game 6. But the KaTropa blew that chance and lost Jayson Castro to an injury, allowing the Beermen to advance.

Having the blueprint and experience should make TNT confident in its chances. Castro will obviously be the focal point of the offense and is expected to play as if he was overseas representing Gilas Pilipinas.

The supporting cast is also impressive. Rookie Roger Pogoy has shown promise with his stingy defending and offensive contributions. Kelly Williams found the fountain of youth in the playoffs, while RR Garcia and Anthony Semerad stepped up when it mattered after joining the team from separate trades. Troy Rosario and Mo Tautuaa, on the other hand, seem to be solid backups for their import.

Speaking of the import, Smith's condition will play a large role in TNT's success. He was hobbled during the semis with a foot injury, but was still a major force down low despite his poor condition, much to the frustration of Ginebra and its supporters.

Should Smith fail to get his foot healthy, TNT has a standby import in Myers, who stands at 6-foot-8 and is lauded by the team as a fitting adversary for San Miguel's Charles Rhodes. The import situation, however, is something the KaTropa have been used to since the start of the conference, having paraded three imports prior to Smith's arrival.

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Survival has been the theme of TNT's Commissioner's Cup campaign, and beating San Miguel is not a farfetched reality.

 

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