SMB vs. Magnolia: 2023-2024 PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals Preview

Surely, there’ll not be a Manila Clasico duel in this conference finals, but boy oh boy, San Miguel Beermen versus Magnolia Hotshots is a sure blockbuster and a must-watch series.

The Battle of the Titans
The Battle of the Titans. June Mar Fajardo to test James Laput et al in the much-awaited PBA Finals. Photo Credit: OneSports PH

Let me tell you why.

First, it’s a clash between the top 2 teams in the league.

On one hand, Star Hotshots being the number 1 seed in the eliminations phase with a 9-2 record just dismantled the gritty Phoenix Fuel Masters last Wednesday, showing the playoff-newbie team the importance not only of talent but experience as well.

On the other hand, second-seeded Beermen with an 8-3 slate, swept the crowd-favorite Brgy. Ginebra San Miguel in the semifinals. Some say it’s given as Gin Kings’ resident import, Justin Brownlee wasn’t around to reinforce his team. That, I believe is a lame excuse as Tony Bishop did pretty well since the conference started and in fact, brought the Kings into the playoffs.

Second, both teams parade prolific imports.

Man, my hats off to these young men for bringing back PBA’s long-lost key import match-up since the early 2000s. If you recall how the fans flocked to PBA games not only to cheer on the local hardcourt heroes but to see the likes of Tony Lang, Derrick Brown, Jerald Honeycutt, and Damien Ownes just to name a few; these guys are ring monsters and thrilling to watch indeed.

Tyler Bey. This baller is more than his tattoos and afro hairdo; he’s a legit scorer and the reason why Magnolia is on top of the standings. During the off-season, Coach Chito Victolero said that the team would just be relying more on Bey’s rebounding prowess. But come the tournament proper, Hotshots didn’t just lean on his boarding skills but he showed that he’s reliable offensively.

Not to forget that Bey is an NBA-caliber reinforcement as he played alongside Luka Doncic, Jalen Brunson, and Kristap Porsingis during his stint with the Dallas Mavericks.

Bennie Boatwright Jr. There’s something about imports in afro nowadays. Kidding aside, this replacement import who came into the league almost halfway through the conference has been making noise ever since. Aside from being the tallest reinforcement in the Commissioner's Cup, his 40.33 points average is truly beyond belief; he’s insane - a scoring wizard.

Many SMB fans and even non-Beermen wonder if the coaching staff stuck with Ivan Aska, would they make it to the league’s pinnacle? I highly doubt it, considering San Miguel has been injury-stricken from the very start. It’s destiny, I’d say.

Lastly, the ultimate locals.

Game 4 of Magnolia versus Phoenix was truly epic. Surprisingly, Mark Barroca was the x-factor of his team and the reason why they called the game over. 21 points for a point guard and a local player is simply awesome.

James Laput is the guy. Give this man the Most Improved Player award, pretty please. Watching this big man play in the middle makes me reminisce about Dennis Espino in his heyday with Sta. Lucia. The footwork and the drop shots are certainly immaculate. Laput’s stepping up is indeed timely as Rafi Reavis is not getting any younger while Ian Sangalang is somehow on and off.

Let’s talk about Paul Lee. A year ago, there was this meme on social media as “Playoff Paul Lee” which depicted the former UE Red Warrior as a great elimination-round-scorer but a subpar player during the playoffs. The guy doesn’t deserve this kind of treatment honestly. If they could only realize how he made it rain from the outside in the entire playoffs, they would say that he’s still at his peak, which I believe he still is.

The Magnolia supporting crew is unbelievable. When Coach Victolero needs magic bunot, he could rely on Calvin Abueva, Rome dela Rosa, and Aris Dionisio who could all be capable of turning the tides in favor of their squad using their defensive assets and scoring abilities.

Now with the Beermen. SMB is lucky to have four first-round first-overall picks on their roster. Yes, four. June Mar Fajardo, Mo Tautuaa, CJ Perez, and Noy Baclao. That’s a fearsome lineup out there; “fear the beer” indeed.

Setting the word “top pick” aside, San Miguel is arguably an all-star cast and a real contender sans Boatwright. No wonder that they’ve swept Ginebra to be in this place; there’s such an immense firepower.

This Magnolia-San Miguel slugfest became more interesting to watch as Fajardo is not on the sick bay to test the mettle of Laput underneath the basket.

Perez, Chris Ross, and Marcio Lassiter quietly became instrumental in their unblemished semis feat wherein without them, without their offensive efforts, their series against Ginebra could go to the distance.

SMB’s supporting cast meanwhile could pass as starters for younger and budding PBA teams. Imagine having a Terrence Romeo, a Jericho Cruz, a Vic Manuel, a Simon Enciso, a Jeron Teng, and a Don Trollano on your team. That’s too much, right?

Despite missing Brgy. Ginebra San Miguel and super import Brownlee in this conference’s finals, still, PBA fans have a series to watch out for as Magnolia and San Miguel both have they take to deliver an entertaining championship.

Okay, for the prediction on who’s going to bring the crown home, I think I’ve stated it above. Without any bias, I’d pick San Miguel to win the trophy simply because there’s too much power in that squad, literally too much from the locals and Boatwright.

But then again, as we say in street basketball, “bilog and bola.” Players by nature have their respective off nights, so we can’t count out Magnolia that easily. The Hotshots for sure will give the Beermen a hard time.

As for the number of games this series will take, I predict San Miguel for a 4-1 title victory.

Game 1 will be on Friday, February 2, 2024, at 7:30 pm at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.

— Joey Boy Capos, The Summit Express

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