San Miguel Beer, Meralco meet for the last time for finals berth


GAME TONIGHT(Smart Araneta Coliseum)6 p.m. – Meralco vs. San Miguel**Series tied, 3-3

FRANCHISE breakthrough versus a shot at lost glory.

These are the major driving forces in play as title-hungry Meralco and former kingpin San Miguel Beer (SMB) settle the score in their deadlocked PBA Philippine Cup semifinal series on Wednesday night at the Smart Araneta Col-iseum.

For the Bolts, a new power in the All-Filipino after posting four runner-up finishes in the import-flavored Governors’ Cup, this is probably their best chance to make it to the ultimate battle for the crown jewel for the first time.

For the Beermen, this is a good opportunity to regain their old spot in the finals of the centerpiece conference after missing it out in the last two seasons coming off their “five-peat” in 2019.

The protagonists duke it out at 6 p.m. with a very interested spectator in TnT intently monitoring their every move. The Tropang Giga are already through to the best-of-seven finale after beating Magnolia in their own semis confrontation last Sunday, 4-2, capped off by an 87-74 clincher.

Meralco, which forced the semis decider via a spectacular 96-92 come-from-behind win in Game 6, is looking to get over the hump in its third consecutive Philippine Cup semis stint.

“We were this close to making the finals of the All-Filipino one time before (in the deciding Game 5 of the 2020 edition) when we lost to Ginebra at the buzzer via Scottie’s (Thompson) three-point shot. So now we have another chance,” said Bolts coach Norman Black.

“It’s a big step for our franchise and now we just have to dig a little bit deeper to try to get there because we’re up against a tough team.”

The Beermen held a 3-1 lead in this Final Four entanglement and appeared on the way to advancing already when they seized a 90-80 cushion in Game 6. But they suffered a big meltdown, giving the Aaron Black-spearheaded Bolts the opening to unload a 16-2 closing salvo and steal it.

“We just stopped playing, I think. We were up 10 and we did not get any stops, we did not score any baskets. We just relaxed. It bit us in the end,” said SMB veteran Chris Ross. “That should be a win. We learn from it, we bounce back.”

This will be Meralco’s second straight “sudden death” in these playoffs after previously outlasting Barangay Ginebra in the third and last game of the quarterfinals, 106-104.

“The Ginebra game was a two-point game. It’s not going to be easier against San Miguel,” said Black, citing the importance of adjustments and counter-adjustments in the you-or-me tiff.

“(SMB) coach Leo (Austria) has been doing a good job of making adjustments every time they lose so we have to anticipate what they’ll do in Game 7 and at the same time have a few adjustments of our own so that we stay a step ahead and hopefully get a victory,” said Mr. Black. — Olmin Leyba