WHEN coach Jorge Gallent stated that his San Miguel Beer crew's road to the PBA Governors' Cup title would be strewn with hardships, few doubted him.
Ginebra actually beat SMB, 3-2, the last time they met in the semis during the 2016 Governors' Cup and the same result is expected this time around with the Beermen having to make do without injured prized center June Mar Fajardo.
"Nothing comes easy now. It's the playoffs... I'm expecting we're gonna have a hard time in the semifinals," Gallent has said.
More so now that the Beermen are ranged against an old nemesis in Barangay Ginebra, which has more to fight for in their Final Four duel that starts Friday at the Ynares Center in Antipolo.
The Gin Kings want to get past the best-of-five pairing and from there win their fourth straight title in the tournament to give skipper LA Tenorio, currently waging his own battle with colon cancer, some sort of a fitting tribute.
But first things first.
Coach Tim Cone is not so sure, even citing some similarities between his Gin Kings and their foes.
"We are playing well but San Miguel is playing probably the best in the league right now," said Cone after a 127-93 beating of import-less NLEX in their quarterfinals pairing last Sunday.
"They are really playing well. They are like us. They are sharing the ball, they play defense a little differently from us. It is super effective, I think they lead the league in defense, I believe. But it's going to be a really, really tough series even if June Mar is not there," added Cone.
"They've proven over the past three games without June Mar that they can play at a high level without him," Cone also said. "In fact, they play a little quicker, more of an up-and-down. Their import has an opportunity to dominate a little bit more inside. They've been able to overcome June Mar's absence with flying colors."
Indeed, SMB has managed to string up three straight wins even without Fajardo, a streak capped by a 121-105 manhandling of Converge earlier Sunday and stoked by the fine performances of the Beermen led by import Cameron Clark and CJ Perez.
"They have a lot of weapons out there," noted Cone. "You just have to figure out how to contain someone, especially the import and CJ. They've all contributed, and they are moving the ball much better than they have in the past. That's been the key to their success."
Cone, however, has his own weapons led by Christian Standhardinger, Justin Brownlee and Jamie Malonzo, aside from a slew of defensive schemes which should all combine to make life truly tough for SMB. (NC)