All eyes on San Miguel, Bay Area giants

Liu Chuanxing of Bay Area gets to test his prowess against June Mar Fajardo of San Miguel in their PBA Commissioner’s Cup best-of-five semifinal series. Photo by Rio Deluvio
Liu Chuanxing of Bay Area gets to test his prowess against June Mar Fajardo of San Miguel in their PBA Commissioner’s Cup best-of-five semifinal series. Photo by Rio Deluvio

Games Wednesday

(Philsports Arena)

3 p.m. — San Miguel vs Bay Area

5:45 p.m. — Ginebra vs Magnolia

Focus will be on six-time Philippine Basketball Association Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo and 7-foot-5 slotman Liu Chuanxing when San Miguel Beer and Bay Area open their Commissioner's Cup best-of-five semifinal series on Wednesday at the Philsports Arena.

Action starts at 3 p.m. before Game 1 of the other semifinal pairing between rivals Barangay Ginebra San Miguel and Magnolia at 5:45 p.m.

Fajardo, a 6-foot-10 giant from Cebu and the league's most dominant figure in the past eight years, is tipped to have his hands full against a taller, yet versatile slotman in Liu, who is a member of the Chinese national squad that saw action in the 2020 FIBA Asia Men's Olympic Qualifying Tournament and 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers.

Fajardo and Liu will surely spice up the crucial battle between the reigning champion and the dangerous Dragons, who are looking to become the first foreign squad to win a PBA title in 42 years.

The Dragons ended the elimination round as the No.1 seed and easily dismantled their last two opponents by an average 31 points, including a 126-96 bashing of Rain or Shine in their quarterfinals duel.

But the Beermen had won six in a row and appeared to be peaking at the right time.

With their tour de force inside the shaded lane back in action, their explosive gunner in Terrence Romeo just returned and the rest of the team making key contributions, they are ready to roll the dice against the most formidable opponent that they are facing in years.

Also tipped to draw attention is the rivalry between Ginebra and Magnolia.

Different generation of stars had upheld such feverish rivalry from Robert Jaworski of Ginebra to Mon Fernandez of Purefoods up to the time of Dondon Ampalayo, Alvin Patrimonio, James Yap, Mark Caguioa, Scottie Thompson and Calvin Abueva.

In fact, both Ginebra and Magnolia have yet to meet in a championship series since 1997 when Purefoods defeated Gordon's Gin.

They, however, have a lot of memorable battles in the playoffs, the last one happened in the 2018 Governors' Cup when the Hotshots outlasted Justin Brownlee and the Kings in four games of their best-of-five semifinal series.

Magnolia, then reinforced by Romeo Travis, went all the way and subdued Mike Harris and Alaska in six games of the best-of-seven title series.

Magnolia coach Chito Victolero is determined to relive that moment when they face the league's most popular team, which will parade a powerhouse lineup.

"I think they can go 10 players deep with the lineup that they have," Victolero said in a telephone conversation with Daily Tribune.

"It's going to be a lot more challenging for us this time, especially now that Ginebra has added new weapons in Jamie Malonzo and Jeremiah Gray."

For Ginebra, it's all about continuing the winning legacy it established, especially in the import-laden conferences when it had Brownlee,

Save for the time when Victolero won his first PBA title with Magnolia, Brownlee had won five championships, including the previous Governors' Cup.

But Brownlee had also proven to be a winner even in a tournament that features bigger imports.

Playing in a tournament that features reinforcements who are 6-foot-10 and below, Brownlee had once claimed a title in the Commissioner's Cup four years ago when the Kings defeated the Beermen in six games of a best-of-seven affair.

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