Never an easy road to the Grand Slam
By Sev Sarmenta
Philippine Daily Inquirer
September 14, 2017 at 5:15 am

Only four teams have won the PBA Grand Slam—all three conferences of a season. The Crispa Redmanizers did it twice, under Baby Dalupan in 1976 and with Tommy Manotoc in 1983. Then San Miguel Beer, mentored by Norman Black, did it in 1989 while Tim Cone and Alaska Milk had theirs in 1996. Cone repeated the feat with San Mig Coffee in the 2013-2014 season.

The Slam is not that easy to achieve. You may win the first two conferences of the year as what Toyota, Tanduay, Great Taste, Sunkist and Talk ‘N Text once did. But stronger opponents, import woes and the fatigue of a long season can be hurdles to winning the final conference.

San Miguel Beer won the first two conferences of this season and is eying to repeat as Grand Slam champion. But it hasn’t been easy sailing in the last journey of the year. Center June Mar Fajardo played sparingly because of an injury. And to make matters more challenging, San Miguel opted to change bull strong import Wendel McKines, who reportedly had difficulty following team policies.

Such personnel challenges will rock any boat but the Beermen seem to have recovered after two successive losses. Fajardo is getting more minutes. Terrence Watson replaced the woeful Terik Bridgeman and fits in nicely. His debut performance of 28 points and 17 rebounds sparked the Beermen to win against Ginebra last Sunday.

The local crew is the ingredient that has kept San Miguel in the hunt for the Grand Slam. Chris Ross is playing the point superbly, adding steals to his repertoire. He is a throwback to the era of Freddie Webb, Yoyong Martirez, Bernie Fabiosa and other guards whose pickpocketing skills created fastbreak opportunities.

Arwind Santos can start or come off the bench to play excellently on both ends. He is norming 20 points a game along with six rebounds and two blocks. His veteran smarts can offset the Beermen’s import inadequacies. Include Alex Cabagnot and Mario Lassiter in the mix and you have a solid core that remains one of the toughest units to beat in the league.

The road to the Grand Slam promised land is still loaded with bumps with teams like Ginebra, NLEX, Meralco, Star and TNT KaTropa eager to deny the Beermen their shinning moment on the last day of the season. It will take rugged determination and some breaks for San Miguel to win its second Grand Slam.

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