IT'S a twin SMC-MVP Group semis affair, and on one side is a matchup pitting the old kingpin versus a team aspiring to become the new PBA king.
Both are highly motivated as former five-time all-Filipino champ San Miguel Beer and breakthrough-seeking Meralco clash in their side of the PBA Philippine Cup best-of-seven semifinal face-off starting at 6 p.m.
Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Beermen are fresh from a weeklong breather and coming in from a murderous run that saw them top the eliminations then thunder past the Blackwater Bossing, 123-93, in their quarterfinals clash.
The Bolts, meanwhile, are prepped up by a big breakthrough versus many-time playoffs tormentor Barangay Ginebra, finally getting over the hump with their 106-104 cliffhanger of a win in a do-or-die setto Sunday at the MOA Arena in Pasay City.
Finally getting past coach Tim Cone and the Gin Kings, caretaker coach Luigi Trillo and the Bolts booked a fifth straight semis for the franchise, but have found themselves ranged against the powerhouse SMB team as they seek to stretch their breakthrough ride.
But there's no turning back for Chris Newsome and his teammates.
"Meralco's never been to the finals in the all-Filipino so we can use that as motivation," said Newsome. "We recognize that we still have more history that we can make.
"We go over the hump against Ginebra but it's just one step. There's another goal that we haven't reached yet, which is getting to the (all-Filipino) finals," Newsome added.
A good thought for the Bolts is the fact that they have beaten the Beermen in their last two playoff tussles. In their quarterfinals dispute in the Governors' Cup last year, the higher-seeded and Tony Bishop-led Bolts needed one game to dispose of the Beermen and import Shabazz Muhammad, 100-85.
Then there's also Meralco's 89-86 decision over San Miguel in their elims tiff in this tourney.
Nonetheless, the consensus is that June Mar Fajardo and his teammates are the heavy favorites versus Bolts, especially with SMB's healthier lineup now.
"It's going to be tough, especially with their lineup. But we're looking forward to this series," said Newsome.
"Like I've said, if you wanna get to the top, you have to beat the best. San Miguel is one of the best, if not the best, in the all-Filipino. So we have to go through them if we wanna go to the finals," he added.
Meanwhile, the Beermen are determined to go back to the top after disappointing performances since their foiled grand slam bid in 2019.
All tournament long, the Beermen have been expressing their desire to reclaim the Emilio Bernardino Trophy. (SB)