Mixers, Bolts start semis duel
MANILA, Philippines - It’s experience versus hunger as battle-tested San Mig Coffee clashes with Final Four first-timer Meralco on one side of the PBA Governors Cup best-of-five semifinals that kicks off tonight at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Mixers, the nine-time PBA champs figuring in a fifth straight semis, and the Bolts, a three-year-old team looking for a breakthrough run, start their semis series at 6:45 p.m.
The other Final Four matchup, pitting reigning titlist Rain or Shine and 2010 winner Petron Blaze, begins at 7:15 p.m. tomorrow also at the Big Dome.
San Mig Coffee and Meralco are the league’s leading defensive teams and their series could well be about finding ways to break each other’s defensive wall.
It has exciting subplots, including the one about the Mixers’ personal battle with their former coach Ryan Gregorio.
San Mig Coffee has nine championships in franchise history, three with Gregorio at the helm.
Gregorio is now out for a new milestone with his new team. The Mixers, however, are also aching to break new ground, out to snap out of a tie with Toyota as the league’s fourth winningest ball club behind Petron (with 19 crowns), Alaska (14) and Crispa (13).
Beaten in the finals by the E-Painters last year, the Mixers are determined to get another title shot, though they expect a tough challenge from the Bolts.
A bad development for the Mixers on the eve of Game One was the medical finding that Allein Maliksi suffered an MCL injury (and possibly ACL).
“That’s devastating because he was becoming such an integral part of the team,” said San Mig Coffee coach Tim Cone.
“Now, though difficult, we’re trying to refocus on our job at hand. We know we have our hands full with Meralco,” Cone also said.
“Meralco is solid. Their guard level is very good. They’re the dark horse in this tournament,” Cone has said earlier.
Gregorio and his troops vow to do their best to reach the next level.
“We worked so hard to be in this situation. Not a lot of people predicted that we will snatch one of the four slots in the semis. But we are conscious on why we are here. Our defense brought us here, and the same toughness will bring us to the next level,” said Gregorio.
“Much has been said about coach Tim’s offense, but in reality, his team plays tenacious defense as well. We are neck and neck in a lot of categories on defense, so this series is about finding ways to score against one another,” Gregorio also said.
“This is a new experience for us. We have to will ourselves to victory and it can only be done through hard work, mental toughness while having fun along the way. We will enjoy this new milestone in our young franchise and we are very clear on our desired destination,” he added.
San Mig Coffee relied on clutch baskets by PJ Simon and Mark Barroca at the finish as the Mixers edged the Bolts, 88-87, in their elimination-round tiff.