For the first time in seven years, Magnolia and TNT clash in the PBA Finals - the last stretch of what have been successful rides for both sides after bringing in key pieces in the offseason.
The Hotshots are in the running for a crown in their very first tourney with prized trade recruit Calvin Abueva while the Tropang Giga are contending for a championship in the return of multi-titled coach Chot Reyes.
And there's a lot more about the Hotshots-Tropang Giga finale that kicks off at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Don Honorio Ventura State U Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Both have lethal offensive weapons, both are defensive demons and both operate as cohesive units. And all these hint at a fierce showdown in a dispute for the throne vacated by the Barangay Ginebra Kings.
Both are determined to end a long drought and both have a deep desire to pound the opportunity before them. And these could well make for a hotly contested, grind-out series.
"Mabigat na laban, but whether it's a short or long series, we'll be ready for it," said Magnolia coach Chito Victolero.
Reyes said he's thankful for the opportunity to fight for the crown in his PBA return.
"I came into this with just one thought for the team - to get better," he said. "I spoke to the players about this and they bought into it. I told the vets you don't have anything to prove, just improve."
And after a second-place finish behind the Gin Kings in the last Clark bubble, the Tropang Giga are raring to finally go to the top - an achievement TNT hasn't achieved since its 2014-15 Commissioner's Cup title run under coach Jong Uichico.
The previous Commissioner's Cup, Magnolia (then flying the banner of San Mig Coffee) and TNT had their last of two title confrontations, with the former winning it as part of its season grand slam under coach Tim Cone.
Magnolia is 2-0 versus TNT in title showdowns since Cone and his troops also beat their TNT counterparts in the 2011-12 Commissioner's Cup.
Victolero believes they're the underdog in this championship, but Reyes isn't buying into it.
"There's a reason they're in the finals," said Reyes.
Stats-wise, they're about even, although the Tropang Giga topped the Hotshots, 83-76, in a low-scoring duel in the elims.
It's no surprise since they're the top two defensive teams in the tourney after Rain or Shine. The Hotshots are allowing just 83.8 points per game while the Tropang Giga yield 84.8 an outing.
And there are the interesting matchups pitting Paul Lee versus Jayson Castro, Mark Barroca against Mikey Williams, Ian Sangalang versus Poy Erram, Rafi Reavis against Kelly Williams and Abueva either against RR Pogoy or Troy Rosario.
Abueva could well be Magnolia's trump card especially as the 6-foot-3 work horse could be a matchup problem for TNT.
"Depende sa offensive or defensive schemes, pwedeng maglaro si Calvin ng two, three or four," said Victolero. (SB)