One Last Time: San Mig Coffee versus Petron Blaze in Game 7
Game Seven. Two words that are a sports fan’s dream. In a very short tournament, it’s ironic that the 2013 PBA Governors’ Cup has been stretched out to a final winner-take-all Game Seven. Sister teams that are anything but friendly Petron Blaze and San Mig Coffee have given PBA fans all the action and drama they could ever want over the course of six games. From blowouts to tight contests, the only thing missing now is an ending.
15 for Cone or 1 for Gee?
Each team stands on the precipice of securing a major accomplishment for their respective bench tactician. San Mig Coffee coach Tim Cone has been coaching in the PBA since 1989 and won 13 titles with the Alaska Aces. He won a title in his maiden season with what was then B-MEG, but his goal of a 15th crown was scattered in this same tournament last year at the hands of Jamelle Cornley, Jeff Chan, and the Yeng Guiao-coached Rain or Shine Elasto-Painters.
Cone has long proclaimed his love for the legendary Virgilio “Baby” Dalupan, the coach of the PBA’s first dynasty in the Crispa Redmanizers. It was Dalupan who first showed the skill of being able to manage a star-studded lineup and it was a given that when the PBA Coach of the Year award was dedicated, it was a no-brainer that it was renamed in his honor. It is also Dalupan’s record 15 PBA Championships with Crispa, Great Taste Coffee, and Purefoods that Cone has long been chasing. If the Mixers win this pivotal seventh game, the American will finally achieve this feat.
For Gelacio “Gee” Abanilla, his first stint as a PBA head coach followed years of cutting his teeth under the direction of some of local basketball’s best minds. Most recently serving as chief deputy of the aforementioned Yeng Guiao, Abanilla coached his alma mater, the De La Salle University Green Archers, just last season and looked to bring the UAAP title back to Taft Avenue. Instead, because of a corporate shakeup, Abanilla was called in to replace fan-favorite Olsen Racela to head the Boosters, leaving Juno Sauler to reclaim the collegiate basketball trophy for La Salle.
Abanilla has been able to finally harness the perennially deep Petron roster and it translated into a buzzsaw that ripped through the rest of the league on the Boosters’ romp to the Finals. Coach Gee is looking to repeat what a previous Petron mentor, former PBA MVP and current Ginebra coach Ato Agustin, did in 2011: win a PBA title in his first season as a head coach.
Unfinished Business or Prophecy Fulfilled?
The imports on each side of this matchup have clearly seen their contributions prove critical for their side’s chances of winning. San Mig Coffee’s Marqus Blakely painfully lived through the loss to Rain or Shine last year as he fouled out with a significant amount of time left in their own Game Seven. This season, Blakely has outdone himself, particularly on the rebounding and shotblocking end, earning himself the Best Import Award in the process. The problem that Blakely and members of San Mig Planet fear is that his free throw woes have continued all tournament long. Blakely’s mantra since arriving has been that he’s got unfinished business stemming from last year, will he finally close the door with a positive ending?
For his part, Elijah Millsap has truly served as a veritable prophet leading Petron from the doldrums all the way to the promised land that is the Finals. Everyone remembers the meltdown that Renaldo Balkman went through in the 2013 Commissioner’s Cup. Their early elimination from that conference resulted in a houseclearing of sorts in Petron as Jay Washington and Joseph Yeo were traded away as Doug Kramer was brought in and a tighter rotation was favored by Abanilla. But it was the crucial addition of Millsap, a versatile player who can play either guard position as well as small forward, that was the final piece of the Petron puzzle.
This whole Governors’ Cup has proven that, whereas a lot of people have written him off, two-time PBA MVP James Yap still has a lot left in the tank. He may not deliver the monster numbers that he’s done in the past, but Yap still knows how to get in maximum scoring position and when he rises beyond the three-point arc, fans of both teams still anticipate a big moment whether the ball goes in the hoop or not. With Mark Barroca and Alex Mallari proving to be a deadly backcourt combo, and with Marc Pingris given the unenviable task of matching super rookie June Mar Fajardo, Cone has emphasized that his squad cannot afford to make many mental errors against the loaded Petron roster.
On the other side, newly-crowned MVP Arwind Santos seemed to finally break out of his slump, and just in the nick of time too because the Mixers would probably not have made it to a seventh game without him. Fajardo’s development over such a short period has been amazing to watch, and the return of Alex Cabagnot after a bout with plantar fasciitis helped boost Petron spirits, but it’s going to take more than that to deliver a knockout punch to the Mixers.
Every cliché has been written and said. No tomorrow. Sudden death. Winner-take-all at the historic Araneta Coliseum. One last game. The final championship of the 2013 PBA season all boils down to this. Who will emerge victorious?