The San Miguel Beermen and TNT Katropa begin their seven-game championship series for the 2017 Oppo PBA Commissioner’s Cup on Wednesday, July 21 at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Though much of the hype will surround the point guard matchup between topnotch point guards Chris Ross and Jayson Castro, the battle between the coaches is an interesting storyline to follow.
San Miguel has won four championships since Leo Austria took over the coaching duties in 2014. Given the success they’ve had in recent conferences, Austria says it is their “destiny” to make it back to the finals again. And though PBA fans believe his team has the upperhand in this series, the laid back coach knows TNT is one team that can give them a lot of trouble.
“A lot of people perceive we are a powerhouse team but if you take a look at the lineup of TNT, masyadong deep yung bench nila,” he said.
In the Philippine Cup playoffs, SMB and TNT met in the semifinals and battled tooth and nail before the KaTropa fell in Game 7. Fast forward to today, TNT has found its way back to the league’s grandest stage. The last time the franchise won a title was in the 2015 Commissioner’s Cup when they beat Rain or Shine in seven games.
Now the KaTropa have a chance to reclaim the glory that they were once familiar with. TNT coach Nash Racela is grateful his team is one step closer to achieving their goal, but cautioned they’ll need to make the most of the opportunity and play their best basketball to bring another championship to the franchise.
“It’s just nice to be here in the finals. The whole group of Talk ‘N Text has been waiting for this. We will just take advantage of this opportunity,” said Racela. “But in the end if you don’t win it all bale wala lang yung pagpasok mo sa finals. Sa ‘min it’s about giving our best.”
Racela knows beating the Beermen, who are frequent finalists, is a daunting task. But he relishes the chance to go mano-y-mano against the “best” team in the PBA.
“San Miguel is the barometer of the PBA – they’re the best team right now. So it’s nice when you get an opportunity like this to play the best.”
Though some of his players have championship experience, the same can’t be said for Racela, who is still just in his first season as a head coach in the PBA. After leading the KaTropa to a semis berth in the previous conference, Racela has managed to carry the team into the finals to become the first rookie coach to reach the PBA finals since Gee Abanilla, currently the SMB team manager, in 2013.
Racela’s PBA coaching career is young but Austria understands how good TNT’s coach is.
“Di ko siya tinatrato na rookie (coach) lang kasi he has coached a lot of teams and he’s been exposed to international competitions, he’s been with the national team. That’s why he’s here in the finals, because of his experience,” said Austria. “He really can coach.”
San Miguel and TNT need to formulate ways to neutralize the other team’s point guards who are both capable of changing the complexion of a game in so many ways, whether offensively and defensively. But the real battle will be on the sidelines – how both coaches will adjust to each other’s strategies.
As previously mentioned, the last time these two teams met in the playoffs the series went the full distance. And it could happen again. Both squads are stacked with talent and well-coached.
“The fact na we’re in the finals, that means we’re both equally talented teams,” said Austria. “But (ang advantage namin) is yung championship experience lang, but other than that I have a lot of respect for TNT. I know na malakas din yung team nila.”
Who draws first blood, Austria or Racela?