For the fans, whether casual or diehard, having both the San Miguel-Talk N Text Series, and the Ginebra-Star Series go the full seven games, is a dream come true.
After all, Game 7's are the ultimate thrill for any fan. It pits two teams so evenly matched that they need to go the full route of seven games to decide the winner.
There is after all no more tomorrow for the losing team, and no team ever wants to be the losing team, especially if it has gone the distance as these two series have.
Only coaches and players want best-of-7-series to end in sweeps, and understandably so, no sense in prolonging a series when you can end it quickly, as the San Antonio Spurs have done, twice at that, in two of the NBA Finals they've won in the last decade or so.
Of course it is not just the fans that are happy with a Game 7.
The league itself, in this case the venerable PBA, Asia's pioneering play-for-pay basketball league, is indubitably happy that both semifinal series of the ongoing Philippine Cup conference have gone on to the seven-game ultimate do-or-die. Allow me to explain, Praxedes.
Every game in a semifinal series promises to be a quality game. And for San Miguel-TNT, and Ginebra-Star, that has been the norm indeed. There haven't been any 30-point blowouts, or any other indications that either series is a monumental mismatch not worth the basketball public's time and ticket money.
The notable exception was last night's (as of this writing) Game 6 between Ginebra and Star. Ginebra pulled away in the third quarter and just plain went nuts in the payoff period to win pulling away 91-67. Joe Devance, Sol Mercado, and Jervy Cruz took turns in putting some distance between their Gin Kings and the Star Hotshots, and it all rubbed off on the end-of-bench players as even the seldom used 6-4 forward Jam Jamito scored on a short jumper in garbage time.
Where were we, Praxedes? Oh yes, the league.
The PBA is an organization that thrives of PR and media values. The more people watch the games, preferably in the venues, but on TV and online streaming is fine too, the more they keep their member-teams, and their sponsors and advertisers happy.
Let's put it another way: a 30-second commercial on prime time TV can cost a company a few millions. Now imagine if that company had a PBA team, and that team was in this semifinals. Their brand will get at least two hours worth of direct mentions on prime time, with millions of eyeballs watching live, or on TV, or via online streaming. How many 30-second commercials' worth is two to two and a half hours of prime time mentions? And then how many millions are those two to two and a half hours worth?
Granted the four protagonists in these semifinals are among the top brands and companies in the country already, still, there is nothing like brand equity coming from live, prime time exposure, and in a critical sports setting at that.
Those with a dirty mind (such as Praxedes) might of course be thinking that the PBA had somehow orchestrated this whole shebang, that these teams are not really all that evenly matched, but that is mere conjecture and ultimately nearly impossible to prove with actual and real evidence.
Sure, there have been some disappearing acts from key players, such as Marcio Lassiter and Paul Lee at crucial junctures of the middle games of their respective series.
Sure, some of the whistles and non-whistles have been of the hair-tearing variety, and on either side at that.
Sure, the Ginebra-Star series has features some of the most woefully low-scoring games in a long while in PBA playoffs history.
But then again, don't we get those anyway regardless of stage of conference or season? All of the bad things we see we tend to turn into bogeymen just because they seem to fit a notion we have one way or another.
In the end we the fans are getting a rare treat indeed, and we can choose to enjoy the game we all love, at its most enjoyable, or we can choose to create conspiracies where there might be none.
As for the games themselves, it says here we get a San Miguel-Ginebra Finals.
Ginebra San Miguel ___
Conference Record: 6-5
How Did They Get Here: Ginebra had to beat the Alaska Aces, a team they've always had difficulty with, and this time with the added handicap of Alaska having a twice-to-beat advantage, and they had to do it with Joe Devance out with an injury in the do-or-die game.
Ginebra somehow pulled through, even coming back from 17 points down in the first game, before completing the fight back in the second game.
Why They Will Make the Finals: Lets face it, nobody does box office better than Ginebra, and nobody does blockbuster better than Ginebra in the Finals.
But an imbalanced roster might make that dream difficult to realize. Ginebra has one of the top big men in 6-foot-9 jumping jack Japheth Aguilar. Aguilar is probably the best in-game dunker now in the PBA, and he has a soft shooting touch for a guy his size, able to hit even all the way out to three-point range. But he is also one of those guys who lets bad calls and wily opponents get under his skin to the detriment of his overall game, and he certainly not one of those big men who can work the low blocks automatically. Still, his ability to keep things honest inside, and to be a rim protector, will be the key factors up front for the Gin Kings.
Aguilar better step up though since Devance will likely be out for at least another week, maybe two, with that plantar injury. That means the likes of David Marcelo, Kevin Ferrer, Aljon Mariano, and Jervy Cruz will form the front line for Ginebra, not exactly an awe-inspiring prospect.
This is where the crafty backcourt of LA Tenorio, Scottie Thompson, Sol Mercado, Chris Ellis, and the venerable Mark Caguioa need to fill in the gaps. Aguilar is basically tending the front court by himself until Devance returns, so the Ginebra backcourt needs to produce and produce big, especially from the perimeter. Ginebra is the worst three-point shooting team in the league, so there really is nowhere to go but up.
Why They Might Not Make the Finals: Back-read to the previous section.
Why they will make it is exactly the same set of reasons they might not make it.
This is a team that lives on its never-say-die spirit, and that can only take you so far in what is expected to be a grueling Manila Classico semifinal. Ginebra has had to rely a lot (some observers and analysts say rely too much even) on one of their stars catching fire every game to win and keep winning.
This wasn't much of a problem last conference thanks to their gunner of an import Justin Brownlee. But now that its just the local crew, and undermanned at that, things might get a little too dicey for the league's most popular ball club. They can't even fall back on Coach Time Cone's Triangle, since that system has basically been obliterated by the much faster running and gunning of the modern game.
The public - and the PBA itself if we are to be honest - wants to see Ginebra at least make the Finals. But as things stand, that looks like a 50-50 proposition at best.
Purefoods Star ___
Conference Record: 7-4
How Did They Get Here: It was a slow start for the Star Hotshots but they peaked at just the right time and seem to be thriving under new head coach Chito Victolero. They are no worse than the second best team in both offense and defense, and newcomer Paul Lee seems to have found an even better set of teammates to maximize his low key but high level talent.
Why They Will Make the Finals: Paul Lee seems to have rejuvenated the franchise. This is a team that, kind of like Talk N Text, really still is your daddy's Purefoods. Marc Pingris, Rafi Reavis, Peter June Simon, Alein Maliksi, and Aldrech Ramos all have some miles on their legs. Mark Barroca, Jio Jalalon, and Ian Sangalang are the youngsters of note. Bringing in Lee for the deathless James Yap was a brilliant stroke, as Lee's passing game and ability to create have brought out the best in all of his teammates.
Matching up against this group isn't the easiest thing in the world, as almost all of them have the ability to manufacture baskets on their own, even lunch bucket types like Pingris and Reavis. Maliksi in particular is benefiting a lot from Lee's play making, since he no longer has to contend with Yap and even Simon getting their touches; Lee finds a way to keep all of them in the loop.
Why They Might Not Make the Finals: As good as the Star Hotshots are, they aren't exactly shoe-ins to barge into the Finals. Not only is the league's most popular team standing in their way, but they might have already peaked in their quarterfinals against the Phoenix Fuel masters.
Lee always brings his "A" game even this deep into the season, but its been a while since his
We are down to the top four teams in the ongoing PBA Philippine Cup, and quite frankly, this should be every fan's dream come true.
Ginebra San Miguel, San Miguel Beer, Talk N Text, and Purefoods Star are arguably the most talented and popular teams in the league today, each with huge and faithful followings. To say that the semifinals will be a sure box office heaven for the PBA is an understatement.
That said, let us take a look at the prospects of each team in these semis:
San Miguel Beer ___
Conference Record: 10-1
How Did They Get Here: They were, quite simply, the top team throughout the conference. That they might not have played at 100% throughout the conference is understandable, given their superiority in talent and depth over every other team, but make no mistake, when the Beermen turn it on, it's usually curtains for their opponent.
Why They Will Make the Finals: Are you kidding me? Seriously. They have arguably the best player ever in the history of Philippine basketball in June Mar Fajardo, the strong and agile 6-foot-10 Cebuano center who is on his way to his third straight MVP award, and perhaps also yet another championship for his Beermen.
As mentioned they not only have talent and depth, but they have it at every position. Fajardo, dominant as he already is, also enjoys the luxury of having the likes of Alex Cabagnot, Arwind Santos, and Marcio Lassiter for teammates. They are so deep and talented they could afford to waive the injured but equally talented Chris Lutz. The likes of Gaby Espinas, Ronald Tubid, and Chris Ross are their rotation guys for cryin' out loud.
Their record speaks for itself, and right now the only ones who can beat them are they themselves.
Why They Might Not Make the Finals: Only an Act of God could prevent the Beermen from taking the Philippine Cup Title. Or overconfidence of the killing kind.
If there is one thing that kills done-deal championships, it is always good old fashioned hubris. Maybe Coach Leo Isaac decides to start newcomer RR Garcia and keeps him on the floor longer than he ought to. Maybe Santos and Lassiter decide to take more three-pointer attmepts than they should. Maybe Tubid decides to sashay and do his shimmy one too many times.
Talk N Text ___
Conference Record: 6-5
How Did They Get Here: Barely. They are only one game above the .500 mark, and at one time it looked like they might miss the playoffs. But they caught just enough breaks to make it this far, including drawing GlobalPort in the playoffs, a team they could handle at this critical stage of the conference. TNT however will need to pull out a few more rabbits out of the hat to return to the Finals.
Why They Will Make the Finals: Like San Miguel they have some talent and depth on their roster. They still have the best pointguard in Asia. That's right, Asia, not just this country, but the entire continent. Jayson Castro may be in the twilight of his career, but the man they call the Blue can still play the game at the highest levels. Just look at the weekly highlight reels and he is still there.
Aside from the Blur TNT still has a few dependable stalwarts led by the mutli-talented Ranidel De Ocampo. "Hodor" as he is affectionately called by some teammates and fans (after his hilarious role in one of their company's TV commercials) remains one of the top inside-outside players in the league, and is arguably the second best stretch 4 after Reynel Hugnatan.
Others who can answer the call include Ryan Reyes, Kelly Williams, Larry Fonacier, and all-purpose 6-foot-7 youngsters Troy Rosario and Moalla Tautuaa.
Rosario and Tautuaa need to grow up plenty fast though, and De Ocampo and Williams better help them along, because they will be needed up front in their semis.
Why They Might Not Make the Finals: Let's face it, this really is you daddy's Talk N Text, and they sometimes show it at the most inopportune times. Imagine the average age of the core players of Coach Nash Racela, and they are essentially the same crew that was winning under Chot Reyes some five or six years ago.
In the end their series will be determined 90% by how Castro plays. Even if all the other key players show up, as long as Castro isn't up to his usual high par, TNT will have a very short series.
(To be continued)
And so it is down to two: Barangay Ginebra and Meralco will dispute the PBA Governors Cup Finals starting tomorrow, 7 October, at the Big Dome, in a Best 4-out of-7 series.
It took quite some doing for both teams to make it this far. Ginebra needed the full five games of their semis series to oust sister team San Miguel Beer. In their win-or-go-home Game 5, Ginebra leaned on rookie guard Scottie Thompson's 24 points (4/7 on triples) and 15 rebounds (yep, no typo, 15 rebounds from the 5-foot-11 guard) to rip San Miguel 117-92. It was fitting payback after the Beermen forced a Game 5 by shredding the Gin Kings in Game 4.
Meralco needed four games to also pull the rug out from their own sister team Talk N Text. Cliff Hodge, the jumping jack Fil-Am forward who has spent his entire career with the Bolts, electrified his side with 32 points (12/19 field goals overall, including three triples) to lead them to the 94-88 victory.
In both series, the "dehado" had turned back the "llamado".
Ginebra last won a PBA championship in 2008, when they had mighty 7-foot-1 import Chris Alexander leading the way. Fast and Furious backcourt mates Mark Caguioa and Jay Helterbrand were still very much living up to their monickers back then. They are still with the Gin Kings up to now, although more as elder statesmen. It has been three years since Ginebra was in the Finals, the last time around they bowed to the Alaska Aces.
Merlaco last won a major basketball championship before there was even a PBA to speak of, when the Reddy Kilowatts (as they were then known) won the old MICAA championship. This is the franchise's first trip to the PBA Finals in its modern incarnation.
What to watch out for in this Finale?
1. Two rookies who were teammates for a while in the PBA D League will now take on each other.
Chris Newsome, whose two in-traffic dunks during the critical waning minutes in Game 4 are still making the video and GIF rounds all over the five digital platforms, is showing everybody why he is widely considered to be (in the words of our very own Joescoundrel) the last genuinely elite player to come out of the Ateneo. Newsome, the 6-foot-2 high-flying guard, has emerged as a vital cog and a legitimate starter for the Bolts. Newsome is playing "like an extra import" in the words of long-time Ginebra fan Gener Crescini. "Parang may maliit na import ang Meralco, tiyak pahihirapan niya mga bata ko," Crescini said over (what else?) shots of Ginebra San Miguel and grilled pigs ears.
His fellow rookie Thompson, who has emerged as a legitimate starter himself, is quickly justifying the high pick Coach Tim Cone used to nab him in the recent draft. "He just needs to keep building his confidence, keep taking shots, even if they aren't falling," said Ginebra veteran LA Tenorio. "Sinabi ko nga sa kanya, kahit tumira siya ng 50, kahit sumala siya ng 40, just keep shooting, kasi 'yun ang binibigay ng depensa," Tenorio added. Turns out that was advice well-given, and well-taken.
"A lot of people probably don't know that Scottie and I were teammates with Hapee in the D League," Newsome said in one interview. "I'm happy he's doing well, and it'll be fun and a challenge to go up against him in the Finals."
If they wind up as each other's match-up, Newsome will enjoy a tremendous edge in athleticism and strength, as those two Game 4 dunks showed. Thompson however has proven to be as brilliant an all-around player in the pros now as he was when he was the MVP of the NCAA. Thompson's versatility should allow him to neutralize somewhat the physical advantages of Newsome.
2. Size versus size.
6-foot-9 Japheth Aguilar, 6-foot-6 Joe De Vance, 6-foot-5 David Marcelo have more than held the fort up front for Ginebra in the absence of 7-foot Greg Slaughter. Slaughter was lost to injury this conference and is expected to miss another few months. Aguilar possesses arguably the best combination of size and athleticism in the entire league. He is still easily pinballed in the lane though, because he's such as long and lanky presence. But few big men have the range, running, and hops of Aguilar, and he is also averaging a little over two blocks per game. De Vance and Marcelo have provided solid support for Aguilar at both the 4 and 5 spots.
Meralco relies on 6-foot-6 Kelly Nabong, 6-foot-4 veteran Reynel Hugnatan, 6-foot-5 Bryan Faundo, 6-foot-4 Jared Dillinger, and the 6-foot-3 Hodge up front. Meralco has nowhere near the size of Ginebra up front, unless they can get something from two former UAAP MVP's whose careers have not been as illustrious in the PBA thus far: 6-foot-5 Ken Bono, and 6-foot-7 Rabeh Al-Hussaini. Al-Hussaini was the cornerstone upon which Black built his 5-Peat title reign with the Ateneo in the UAAP, but hasn't seen much action lately.
8. Cafe France channels their inner Blackwater to beat NLEX. Cafe France, a team made up mostly of the core of the Centro Escolar University Scorpions of NAASCU, became only the second team in the last six years to beat mighty NLEX for the PBA D League championship. 6-foot-5 import Rodrigue Ebondo of Cameroon made the buzzer-beating title-clinching basket in the winner-take-all Game 3 of the Foundation Cup conference. "Ibigay ko daw sa kanya ang bola at siya na gagawa, so binigay namin sa kanya at nag-deliver siya," exclaimed Coach Egay Macaraya. NLEX has been mostly the resident champion of the D League with their always-loaded lineup. This Foundation Cup lineup was made up of the core of NCAA Dynasts San Beda. However, they had to make do without their San Beda stars in this game, as the Red Lions had to focus on the NCAA season that already opened at around this same time. They still had a formidable roster though, with eventual PBA first round draftees Troy Rosario, Chris Newsome, and Scottie Thompson leading the way. But it just was not enough to overcome the tough Bakers who were hungry for their first ever D League crown.
9. There were some question marks in the PBA Draft. This does not pertain only to Talk N Text somehow winding up getting the top two picks - 6-foot-7 Tongan-born Mo Tautuaa, and 6-foot-7 Gilas Pool mainstay Troy Rosario - but also to some picks that just seemed not to make all that much sense. For example, how did Roi Sumang wind up all the way down into the third round? Many draft projections had him going as early as the second half of the first round. Sumang was an outstanding amateur who looked PBA-ready, yet GlobalPort still saw him available all the way down to the third round. To their credit the Batang Pier did grab him right away, and even made him the first draftee signed up by the club that picked him. "Nung nakita namin na andun pa si Roi kinuha na namin talaga, nagtaka pa nga kami bakit andun siya," said Coach Pido Jarencio after drafting Sumang. Then Letran star Mark Cruz, Don Trollano, Simon Enciso, Abel Galliguez, Bradwyn Guinto all also wound up going into later rounds. One long-time TV Panel guy perhaps summed it up best when he admitted on air, "I don't really know Don Trollano." Quite an admission considering he also covers the D League, where Trollano was an off again-on again Best Player of the Game. My money is on these guys besting at least three players taken in the first round over their respective careers.
10. Steve Kerr and the Lacobs and make Stef Curry and Golden State NBA Champions. His draft appraisal has always been a constant source of inspiration for Stef Curry. The remarks in it, in fairness, were pretty accurate for him coming out of college: too small to be an NBA 2-guard, can't really play the point, not strong enough, not athletic enough, just a shooter. Lo and behold whoever put that together must still be getting it from all of his buddies, if not the entire scouting fraternity. But that is just making another Kerr story to add to his growing legend. If it wasn't for Golden State team owners the Lacob Brothers, and Steven Kerr, at the time a rookie coach, maybe Curry would still be just another flashy shooter type. The Lacobs put together the team that would turn the NBA on its ear, and make Curry the best player on the planet. Making it all work together is the genius that is Kerr. Who would have thought that guys like Draymond Green, Mo Speights, Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, and Andre Igoudala would ever form the core of a championship team? All of them were the prototypes for players who would forever be "missing something" that would make them just role players or journeymen all their lives. Turns out they were all long, athletic, tempo-pushing types that could beat anybody at any time. Now they are NBA champions, Curry the MVP, and they look set to make it a back-to-back title romp sooner rather than later.
11. The death of the big name high school superstar. Quick (and no Googling), name the last UAAP, NCAA, or Tiong Lian MVP who became both MVP and champion at least once during his college career. I'll make it a little easier: even if it was not necessarily the same year. Now I'll make it a little harder: who was the last UAAP, NCAA, or Tiong Lian MVP and champion, who also became a UAAP or NCAA MVP and champion, who also became a PBA MVP and champion? If the answer to this last question is a player who has been in the PBA for more than 10 years, I guess it is safe to say the big name high school superstar has really been dead for the longest time. Some might argue that Terrence Romeo is the closest thing, and he is relatively young. However I cannot take him into consideration because 1) He never won a UAAP senior division championship, and 2) He has yet to become a PBA champion or MVP, so he really is not even close.
12. The truly talented Fil-Am players chose not to come