Sunday, January 1, 2012

Name switch worked wonders for SMC franchise in PBA 2011

San Miguel, for two conferences in the PBA's 36th season, was unsuccessful in their campaign with its final title win happening during the 2008-2009 Fiesta Conference.

The Beermen were even eliminated in the Commissioners Cup finishing with a 2-7 slate. Hence, a name change was needed to revive the franchise's once dominant stature.

The sudden name change of the lead product of the San Miguel Corp. (SMC) quickly produced a PBA championship in what could be best remembered as among the greatest upsets in the league’s 36-year history.

Shedding its long-time San Miguel Beermen tag, the SMC team was reborn for the season-ending Governors Cup as the Petron Blaze Boosters, who readily made heads turn following their epic victory over the heavily-favored Talk 'N Text Tropang Texters in their best-of-seven Finals series.

Getting a monster performance from long-armed Arwind Santos (named Best Player of the Conference), heady playmaker Alex Cabagnot, silent but effective import Anthony Grundy, and the inspired plays of veteran and two-time league MVP Danny Ildefonso, the Boosters ended the best-of-seven series—which went the full route—with a convincing 85-73 beating of the star-studded Tropang Texters in the deciding Game 7 played before a crowd of 17,000 at the Araneta Coliseum.

The title run not only avenged the Boosters' loss to the same Talk 'N Text squad in the season-opening Philippine Cup Finals, but likewise denied the telecommunication franchise its ambitious bid to become only the fourth team in league history to complete a rare Grand Slam.

"The victory was sweet since we finally avenged our loss in the All-Filipino (Conference)," said San Miguel mentor Ato Agustin, who earned the distinction as the first coach to win a championship on his rookie season since Joel Banal first did the trick for Talk 'N Text in the 2003 All-Filipino Cup.

"What makes it extra sweet is we foiled their Grand Slam bid. That really hurts," he added.

Shaking things up

It was the Boosters, until their stunning Governors Cup win, who were actually playing hurt for most part of the season.

They lost to the Tropang Texters in six games during the All-Filipino tournament, and then totally nose-dived in the Commissioner’s Cup when it became the first team to be eliminated with only two wins to show in nine outings—the worst record ever in franchise history.

In the midst of the import-laden tournament, the team decided to shake up its roster with a massive major trade with Air21 involving veteran players Dondon Hontiveros, Danny Seigle, Paul Artadi and Dorian Pena in exchange for top rookies Nonoy Baclao, Rabeh Al-Hussaini and Rey Guevarra.

By the time the Governors Cup was about to set off, SMC officials led by basketball operations chief Robert Non, decided to drop the name San Miguel for Petron, and thus the Boosters were born.

But success did not come right away.

Petron changed import one after the other, from Mike Taylor, Ricky Harris, to Jeremy Wise, until settling for Grundy, a former member of the Atlanta Hawks, midway into the eliminations.

Injuries also ravaged the Boosters, with key players Jay Washington, Al-Hussaini, Lordy Tugade and Joseph Yeo failing to suit up until the final game of the conference.


The Boosters needed to beat the Tropang Texters, 98-83, and got a big lift from sister-team Barangay Ginebra's 103-95 victory over Rain or Shine on the final day of the semifinals to earn a championship berth opposite Talk 'N Text.

The Boosters, Kings, and Alaska Aces ended up tied for second spot with similar 8-5 (win-loss) records, but Petron clinched the second Finals slot by virtue of a higher quotient.

It was Talk 'N Text-SMC (Petron) Part II.

Convinced the Tropang Texters played half-heartedly against them in their last semifinal meeting to avoid meeting Ginebra in the title series, the Boosters carried the momentum with them going to Game One of the Finals and stunned their highly-favored foes with an 89-88 win on Ildefonso's buzzer-beating game winner.

That set the tone for a thrilling championship duel that went down the wire.

In the end, it was the Boosters who had the last laugh.

"This could have been my best championship win," said Agustin, who also had some unpleasant exchange of words with Talk 'N Text coach Chot Reyes during the course of the series.

"We were given the chance to win one game and we made full use of the chance four times." — JVP, GMA News


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