Before the storm: Ginebra-San Miguel PH Cup series

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Barangay Ginebra and the San Miguel Beermen will go head-to-head in the 2017 Philippine Cup finals.

Highlights

  • Both Barangay Ginebra and the San Miguel Beermen endured a seven-game semifinal series.
  • Ginebra and San Miguel last met in the PH Cup Finals in 2007.
  • Defending champions San Miguel Beermen considered as favorites.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Philippine Cup Finals is again at the forefront.

After a pair of hard-fought best-of-seven series, Barangay Ginebra and the San Miguel Beermen are gearing up to do battle anew in another best-of-seven affair for the Jun Bernardino Trophy.

There is history between the two sister teams in this conference, with Ginebra winning its last Philippine Cup at San Miguel's expense in 2007.

Mark Caguioa and JayJay Helterbrand bannered the Gin Kings as they overturned a 2-0 deficit in the series before winning four straight to claim the title.

By coincidence, Ginebra guard LA Tenorio and assistant coach Olsen Racela were members of the 2007 Beermen.

Racela actually had the chance to send what turned out to be the decisive Game 6 into overtime, but was unable to convert on a last second follow up to concede the trophy to the Gin Kings.

Fast forward 10 years, and fans are revisiting the all-Filipino Ginebra-San Miguel matchup.

Strong beer

Observers and commentators pegged the San Miguel Beermen as the favorites this time around.

With reigning MVP JuneMar Fajardo leading the line, alongside a loaded starting five of Marcio Lassiter, Chris Ross, Arwind Santos, and Alex Cabagnot, it is no surprise that many expect San Miguel to overwhelm whomever they face.

A quick look back at Game 7 of the TNT KaTropa and San Miguel semifinal series gives a glimpse of what the Beermen could unleash when their starting lineup is firing on all cylinders.

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Fajardo and Santos paced San Miguel with 22 points apiece, while gobbling up a combined total of 32 rebounds.

Ross figured with a double-double of 18 markers and 10 assists, while Cabagnot and Lassiter chipped in with 14 and 12 points, respectively.

The starters were so dominant, the San Miguel bench only scored eight points throughout Game 7 as they dumped the KaTropa, 96-83.

Their Game 7 performance wasn't a one-off, the Beermen finished the elimination round at the top of the table with a 10-1 slate.

Despite all the plaudits their starters receive, San Miguel also have dangerous pieces on the bench.

Throughout the conference, San Miguel coach Leo Austria called the numbers of R.R. Garcia, Gabby Espinas, and Ronald Tubid for a boost off the bench.

Looking at the team from top to bottom, it is no wonder that they have returned to the Finals to defend their championship.

Read: San Miguel returns to Philippine Cup finals with huge victory over TNT

Ginebra: the unlikely finalists

Fans could be forgiven if they had written off Barangay Ginebra's chances to make it this far after watching the elimination round.

The Gin Kings took the long road to the championship stage, ending the eliminations with a 6-5 win-loss record before being forced to overcome a twice-to-beat disadvantage against the Alaska Aces in the quarterfinals.

It didn't get any easier in the semifinals, after slugging it out with the Star Hotshots through seven games.

Star and Ginebra proved to be such a tight defensive matchup, Ginebra head coach Tim Cone said that both teams were 'bleeding' to score and create their offense.

Against the Aces, Ginebra had to overcome a a 17-point deficit to force a rubber match, while against Star, the Gin Kings won two straight games after trailing the series, 2-3.

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By all accounts, it is a wonder that Ginebra made it to the Finals at all.

But as is often the case, the partisan never-say-die faithful was given credit for giving the Gin Kings the energy to go beyond themselves.

Ginebra forward Joe Devance said it best after booking their place in the Finals.

"I truly cannot put in words how much they (the fans) mean to us," Devance said. "How can we give up when the whole country is rooting for us?"

Read: Barangay Ginebra clinches PH Cup finals slot after thrashing Star

Favorites and underdogs

On paper, San Miguel appear with the edge.

In fact, coach Austria said he knows that his team has gone through the conference with a big target on their back.

"We are tagged as the number one team to beat," Austria said. "We're so happy dahil we lived up to the expectation"

What coach Austria said about expectation was true, if you asked any coach or player in the league before the season started, the Beermen were always seen as the top dogs in the conference.

Looking at their road to the Finals, San Miguel has validated those votes of confidence.

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The Ginebra faithful will remind you that the last time these two teams figured in a series, the Gin Kings edged out the Beermen in the penultimate game of their semifinal meeting in the Governors' Cup last October.

Unfortunately for the Gin Kings, that was an import-laden conference and would have to challenge San Miguel without the help of Justin Brownlee.

Ginebra also have health issues going into the series, with Joe Devance possibly missing time due to his lingering foot injury and with Greg Slaughter still recovering from his ACL tear.

But this conference was characterized with Ginebra punching above their weight and forcing their way into the Final.

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If the Gin Kings are tagged as the underdog, it is a title they wouldn't mind.

Cone believes his players have grown to savor the underdog role.

"The challenge is very tall, but these guys keep finding a way and they keep surprising me," Cone said of his players. "They have great belief, they have great belief in the way we do things, and they are very disciplined in the way they do things."

"That has given us an edge that I didn't think we would have," Cone said.

Game 1 of the Philippine Cup Finals between Barangay Ginebra and the San Miguel Beermen is set for Friday evening at the Mall of Asia Arena.