Is Converge a contender or a pretender?
Its true test comes today when it battles reigning champion San Miguel Beer in the quarterfinals of the Philippine Basketball Association Commissioner’s Cup at the Philsports Arena.
The FiberXers open their best-of-three series with the Beermen at 3 p.m. right after before the other quarterfinal battle between Barangay Ginebra San Miguel and NorthPort at 5:45 p.m.
Converge posted the longest winning streak this conference, racking up seven straight victories that put it in strong running for the outright top two berth.
But an off-court incident involving import Quincy Miller, who came late for practice, rocked the FiberXers’ boat, prompting the management and coaching staff to bench him during their elimination round game against NorthPort.
As expected, the import-less FiberXers lost to the Batang Pier and that put a halt to the youngest PBA franchise’s seven-game winning run.
Miller returned in their game against the Kings but could only come up with 16 points in their final game of the elimination round.
In the playoffs, the FiberXers’ resolve will be tested as they will be going up against a Beermen team that is now back at full strength.
Six-time Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo has returned and quickly reaffirmed his role as the main man in the middle for the Beermen.
Then, there’s Terrence Romeo, who after being idle for nine months, displayed flashes of brilliance for his team.
A Finals MVP when the Beermen last won the Governors’ Cup, Romeo was slowly reinserted in the team’s scheme of things and he made key contributions, knocking down 12 points in San Miguel’s 113-108 victory over Meralco in their final game of the elimination round.
The Kings and the Batang Pier try to move within striking distance from the Final Four when they take the first crack at their own race-to-three series.
For Ginebra, it’s about peaking at the right time and with new players like Jamie Malonzo and Jeremiah Gray, two highly-athletic players who can do a lot of things on the floor, coach Tim Cone can now revert to his pet Triangle Offense and create equal opportunities for his team.
The entry of these two talented players had even made reigning MVP Scottie Thompson reduced to becoming a role player, especially now that Stanley Pringle had also rediscovered his old deadly form.
But the most crucial ingredient is definitely Justin Brownlee — a two-time Best Import and five-time champion who has been more of a chemistry guy that ensures Ginebra’s continues success even in an import-laced tournament that features reinforcements not taller than 6-foot-10.
Ginebra decided to bring familiarity and talent over size, knowing that local players like 6-foot-8 Christian Standhardinger and 6-foot-9 Japeth Aguilar can hold the fort in the interior.