By: Ernesto A. Gonzales - @inquirerdotnetPhilippine Daily Inquirer /
Looks like there will be a repeat of the San Miguel Beer-Barangay Ginebra title showdown in the Philippine Cup last May.
Both finishing strong, the Beermen and the Gin Kings wound up tied for top spot with the Star Hotshots with nine wins against two losses at the end of the eliminations last week of the mid-season Commissioner’s Cup.
Ginebra, which lost to SMB, 4 games to 1, in their best-of-seven duel in the traditional all-Filipino tournament kicking off the league’s 2016 season, went on to clinch the top ranking on a higher quotient on the strength of earlier wins over the Beermen and the Hotshots.
SMB salvaged second place having also downed Star in their first meeting and will go into the quarterfinal playoffs enjoying a twice-to-beat bonus like Ginebra against the two teams that completed the eight-team qualifying cast.
There was actually a similar three-way tie at 4-7 for the last two quarterfinal slots but Phoenix, just like Ginebra, was ranked higher and nailed the No. 7 slot over Alaska and GlobalPort with earlier victories over both squads.
But there’s no rejoicing for Phoenix in the playoffs with SMB as its next rival. The Aces and the Batang Pier were disputing the eighth and last berth at presstime with the winner also facing the daunting task of meeting Ginebra as a quarterfinal foe.
As the top two qualifiers, the Kings and the Beermen will need only to win once to reach the semifinals. The two other semifinal berths will be at stake in two separate best-of-three series pitting Star against No. 6 qualifier and defending champion Rain or Shine (5-6) and No. 4 TNT (8-3) Katropa against No. 5 Meralco (7-4).
Barring monumental upsets, Ginebra and SMB will face the survivor of the TNT-Meralco duel and the Star-Rain or Shine clash, respectively, in the semis, which will be a best-of-five affair. The finals will be another best-of-seven confrontation.
Reinforced by Justin Brownlee, the Kings finally topped an elimination phase of an import-flavored tournament for the first time in 20 years although coach Tim Cone, who joined the team last year from Purefoods which later became Star also last season, said he expected a tough road ahead.
“It’s good to be the top seed but there’s the high expectation you have to deal with,” he said.
Brownlee, at 6-foot-5 one of the smallest in a tournament where 6-10 imports are allowed, remains the biggest factor for the Kings. He is best remembered for clinching the Governors’ Cup crown for Ginebra with a buzzer-beating trey against Meralco last season.
Ginebra fans also await the return of 7-footer Greg Slaughter, who, reports say, may be fielded in the playoffs after recovering from a leg injury.
Slaughter had battled 6-10 June Mar Fajardo as amateurs in Cebu before his wide-bodied rival became the toast of the league as three-time Most Valuable Player for SMB.