PBA: Desire to end title drought fuels Magnolia-TNT finals showdown

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 19) – For almost a decade now, Magnolia Pambansang Manok Hotshots and TNT Tropang Giga are the two Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) powerhouse teams that have yet to clinch the All-Filipino Cup title.

However, this year, both teams owned by rival business conglomerates have been given the chance to contend for the most coveted title in Asia's first play-for-pay professional basketball league - and they are hungrier than ever before.

Magnolia last won the Philippine Cup crown in the 2013-14 season as San Mig Coffee Mixers, when they defeated Rain or Shine Elasto Painters in the finals in six games.

It's the second of the San Miguel Corporation-owned franchise's four-peat title conquest under then head coach Tim Cone, and bannered by veterans James Yap, Marc Pingris, and Peter June Simon, who are all no longer with the team.

The Chito Victolero-coached Hotshots sought to reclaim that glory in the past three years, but they lost in the 2018 and 2019 Philippine Cup finals against star-studded sister team San Miguel Beermen.

"This is our third time to try, hopefully we can get over our hump in the finals," said Victolero, who guided Magnolia to their first PBA crown after the 2013-14 four-peat conquest during the 2018 Governors' Cup.

Magnolia scorer Paul Lee understands the pain of almost winning the crown as the former University of the East Red Warrior continues his quest for his first All-Filipino plum.

"It's still painful. We're one basket away from winning the championship. We have a different group, but our core remains intact," said Lee.

Meanwhile, the Manny Pangilinan-owned TNT franchise tasted its last Philippine Cup championship way back during the 2012-13 conference, where the likes of Ranidel de Ocampo and Jimmy Alapag led the lopsided finals series against the Elasto Painters.

The Tropang Giga are also currently in a six-year title drought as they last won a PBA crown in the 2015 Commissioner's Cup.

"We haven't won a championship for six years. We always lose when we were in the finals. Hopefully this time, we can win the title," said Jayson Castro, the leading figure of the squad for many years.

TNT head coach Chot Reyes believes now is the best time for them to reclaim the top spot in the league with a crown. They finished as the number one seed after an almost flawless 10-1 elimination round campaign.

"The personality of our leaders in the past like Jimmy and Ranidel are very different from the personalities of our leaders today which are Jayson and Kelly. But the values remain the same, the values of sacrifice, hard work, and playing together as a team," said Reyes, who returned to the squad after a nine-year absence.

Sacrificing to play amid the pandemic

Another motivation that both Magnolia and TNT share in their quest to end their All-Filipino Cup title woes are the sacrifices they endured to continue their passion for basketball amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Calvin Abueva, who is Magnolia's key acquisition in the offseason, said playing in the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup was tough considering the stoppage of play last August, and being away from their families because of the league's strict health protocols.

"Now that we are in the finals, all our sacrifices have paid off. It all depends on which team among us is hungrier to win the crown," said Abueva, who leads the 2021 Best Player of the Conference race after serving a year-long suspension from playing in the PBA.

TNT swingman Mikey Williams, who's making a name for himself in his rookie season, said the challenges they faced made him tougher to compete in his maiden finals trip.

The Tropang Giga had to catch up in their games in the early part of the conference after four players "returned COVID-19 tests that were either positive or needs to be confirmed." 

"We've been to many sacrifices and challenges. I'm just looking forward to this with my team and I'm definitely excited to get started," said Williams.

As an exciting finals matchup looms, PBA commissioner Willie Marcial dedicates the upcoming title series to Filipino basketball fans and to the league family who sacrificed much in continuing the conference amid the health crisis.

"This is dedicated for all of you. We will definitely have an entertaining match," said Marcial.

Game 1 of the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup finals between Magnolia and TNT is set on Wednesday at 6:00 p.m.