San Miguel have done it again.
On Friday, the Beermen took down long-time rivals TNT KaTropa, 102-90, to bag the 2019 PBA Commissioner’s Cup championship – their second straight title this season.
San Miguel furthered their status as the most successful team in Asia’s pioneering pro league, as they now have 27 titles to boast of – including four Commissioner’s Cup crowns.
June Mar Fajardo could only feel blessed after winning yet another gold, given the journey for him and the Beermen in this mid-season conference, with all the obstacles along the way.
“Sobrang blessed lang talaga namin na makuha yung championship na ‘to. Pasalamat kami kay God. ‘Di biro pinagdaanan namin [sa] start pa lang ng conference pero na-overcome namin.”
And what a difficult start it was.
During the eliminations, SMB only won two of their first seven games, causing fears of an early exit. It then prompted the team to switch imports from Charles Rhodes to Chris McCullough.
With the former NBA cager in tow, they got their act together until they lost to the Meralco Bolts in their final assignment. But with a bit of luck, the Beermen still qualified for the next round.
Unfortunately, they then found themselves in a dangerous spot in the quarterfinals. As the seventh-seeded team, they set up a series with the second-ranked team NorthPort Batang Pier.
But again, San Miguel pulled through, blowing the Batang Pier’s win-once incentive to reach the semifinals, where they came up against the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters.
That was also a difficult series, as they needed four games in the best-of-five series to finish Rain or Shine. Still, they got the job done, and had made it back to the Finals for the third straight time.
Of course, it’s been well-documented how physically and emotionally challenging the title series was. But their experience carried them through, overcoming a 1-2 deficit en route to the gold.
“Sobrang hirap talaga. Pagdating namin sa quarters, kalaban agad namin number two, yung NorthPort. Twice-to-beat sila. Sobrang hirap nung game na yun buti nagawa namin.
“Abot kami semis, Rain or Shine. Sobrang hirap, sobrang bugbog. Adjustments namin grabe,” recalled Fajardo. “Sobrang ganda ng series na ‘to (Finals), ganda rin ng nilaro nila. Credit sa kanila.”
San Miguel are now the lowest seed to win a title. For Fajardo, credit goes to coach Leo Austria, who has now won eight championships since he took over the coaching reins 2014.
“Buti magaling si Pops sa adjustments,” said the now-eight-time PBA champion Fajardo, who fondly calls the former three-time Coach of the Year his “Pops”.
“You did a great job, Pops.”
Fajardo dedicated this success to his family, whom he misses very much since they were not around to see the Finals – and he won’t see them anytime soon, as he has Gilas Pilipinas duties next.
“Dedicate namin championship na ‘to sa family namin. Gusto ko andito sila, pero wala sila, yun lang nakakalungkot,” he said.
“Mas maganda ‘pag nandito parents ko, mahahug ko sila. Ibang experience sana.”
Now that SMB have won two of three titles this season, Grand Slam talks have sparked anew. Fajardo could also win his sixth straight Most Valuable Player plum.
But he’s not thinking of it now.
“Kung ibibigay sa’kin, why not? Pero ‘di muna yun ang goal ko,” said Fajardo.
“Ngayon goal ko muna makapag-contribute sa Gilas, at siguro pahingang konti before third conference.”
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