Cone: I don't even think Phil Jackson can find a way to stop Fajardo
MANILA, Philippines – The 3-time reigning Most Valuable Player of the PBA is such a force that champion coach Tim Cone is hard pressed to believe that even the great NBA coach Phil Jackson could figure out a way to stop him.
Cone, a 19-time PBA champion, led crowd-favorite Barangay Ginebra San Miguel back to the finals in the 2017 PBA Philippine Cup, a mere 4 months since winning the franchise's first title in 8 years last conference.
In the way of the Gin Kings' bid for back-to-back trophies are two-time defending champions San Miguel Beermen, with their crown jewel, the 6-foot-10 Fajardo.
The unenviable task of finding a way to neutralize Fajardo now falls on Cone and his coaching staff. And he's not afraid of admitting just how much of a challenge that is.
"I don't even really have a plan yet to stop June Mar. I'm not even sure there is a plan to stop June Mar," he said on Wednesday, February 22, during the PBA Finals press conference held at Sambo Kojin restaurant in Eastwood.
"I don't even think Phil Jackson would figure out a way to stop June Mar. Just gotta try and limit him as much as we can. Can't stop him."
Fajardo has been a dominant force in the league since he was drafted first overall in 2012. He is a 3-time PBA champion and 4-time Best Player of the Conference winner.
His size coupled with his continued growth in skill and basketball IQ – especially through the experiences he's accumulated as part of Gilas Pilipinas – has made him a formidable force through the years.
What's more, Fajardo is surrounded by a wealth of talent waiting in the wings when he's crowded on underneath, or ready to drive hard when he's double- or even triple-teamed.
"To be honest with you I'm shaking in my boots at the idea of facing San Miguel. I'm scared, just like all the other coaches. And there's good reason to be," Cone said, noting San Miguel's solid starting unit that includes Arwind Santos, Marcio Lassiter, Chris Ross, and Alex Cabagnot.
"They're all weapons but we just have to find a way and keep them as uncomfortable as we can."
"But I believe in our guys and I believe they find ways," he added.
Cone lamented the absence of his own 7-foot big man Greg Slaughter, who is recovering from a knee injury and is not expected to return until the last conference this season.
But Ginebra has managed to win a title without Slaughter, and they've even made it to the finals from down in the 7th seed despite the foot injury of another big guy Joe Devance.
It is for that very reason that Cone is confident the Gin Kings will figure something out.
"I think our team can match up to anybody," said the two-time Grand Slam coach. "We've found ways to overachieve and we're gonna continue to find ways to overachieve."
San Miguel coach Leo Austria, on the other hand, is wary of the fact that TNT KaTropa were able to make life extra difficult for Fajardo in their 7-game semifinals.
"I think what happened to us in the semifinals is a good help for out team. Maybe we can use that in the finals also, and we learned a lot," he said. "I keep on telling the players that June Mar is not the only one. We keep on winning not because of June Mar, but because of his teammates."
Game 1 of this best-of-7 finals series begins on Friday, February 24 at the Mall of Asia Arena. – Rappler.com