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.
Hapee is a brand long associated with amateur basketball. It was among the later stalwarts of the now-defunct Philippine Basketball Leage. They joined the PBA D leage last conference, basically taking over the multi-titled NLEX franchise made up of the core of NCAA Dynasts San Beda. As expected they won the championship against the hardfighting Cagayan franchise to usher in a successful return to amateur basketball.
Unfortunately things are not going quite so well for the Fresh Fighters in the current PBA D League Foundation Cup.
At 3-3 they're fifth in the 10-team standings. They needed an overtime to beat Cafe France in their last game at the San Juan Arena. 6'8" San Beda import Ola ADeogun tossed in an awkward miss by Troy Rosario with only 3/10 of a second remaing in regular time 63-63, sending that game into overtime.
Prior to that, Maverick Ahanmisi, a US NCAA Division 1 product, looked like he had sealed the win for the Bakers, nailing back-to-back three-pointers to push Cafe France to a 61-53 spread with a little over three minutes to go. Ahanmisi wound up with a superb all-around game with 16 points (three treys), seven rebounds, and six assists to lead the Bakers. His speed and strength clearly rattled fellow Filipino-American ballers Ray Parks, the two-time UAAP MVP, and Chris Newsome, the two guys tasked to match up with him.
Parks and Newsome are both highly athletic and talented UAAP stars, but clearly the US NCAA Division 1 product was indeed on a higher basketball plane, at least in this game. Ahanmisi ran hard in transition and the early offense, and hit the outside jumper either off his own dribble or off passes on the drive-draw.
Hapee had already lost to Jumbo and Keramix, two teams that, on paper, should not have been able to stand toe to toe with the Fresh Fighters, much less beat them. They also got blown off the floor by their first Finals rival, Cagayan. Granted Hapee was without Adeogun and the five other San Beda stalwarts prior to this game. The Red Lions arrived right in time. Had Hapee lost this game they would have gone down to 2-4, precarious with only four games remaining on their schedule.
Another San Beda stalwart, 6'4" forward Arthur De La Cruz, was named best player in this overtime victory with 18 points and 10 rebounds. "We just want to help our team win," De La Cruz said in one post-game interview. Help is needed plenty from the way Hapee was going before this game.
Comes now the question: Even without the San Beda players onboard, Hapee still had plenty of talent. Rosario, Parks, Newsome, have former Ateneo standout Kirk Long, reigning NCAA MVP Scottie Thompson, former JRU star Marvin Hayes, and quality reinforcements in former St Benilde gunner Mark Romero, and banger Tonton Bringas, as teammates. So how could they have started off at 2-3? Just with that roster, shouldn't it have been a 5-0 start for Hapee?
Let's do a little deeper digging:
1) Parks cannot do it all by himself. Parks was also last conference's MVP. His talent is without question. But his ability to literally carry a team on his own shoulders remains in doubt. He never won a UAAP championship with National University for example. Ironically NU won that elusive championship after Parks left. Everyone from coaches, to teammates, to the TV Panel guys, all seem to think Parks is this unstoppable one-man gang. His record so far suggests he is not.
2) Troy Roasrio needs to have a strong all-star center beside him. Rosario just came off a championship with NU in the UAAP, where he spent four years trying to get better. At a legit 6'6", with long limbs and strong springs, he looks like the Top 3 PBA Draft Pick everyone expects he will be. As in the case of Parks there is no doubting Rosario's talent. Unfortunately, Rosario needs to be paired with another good big man to be effective. He isn't one of those franchise cornerstone types who will do well on his own. In the NU championship run in the UAAP he had arguably the best import in the league in 6'6" Alfred Aroga. Before that he had another top import in 6'6" Jean Mbe.
3) Isolation plays and pounding the low post are no longer the only keys to success. Having Parks and Rosario on the roster makes it tempting to think just giving them the ball and letting them operate will ensure win after win after win. That is precisely what Hapee has done throughout their first five games. That is not really surprising though considering that...
4) Keeping a supporting cast strictly as a supporting cast makes teams predictable. That however presupposes that the supporting cast can also deliver, and this suporting cast can deliver, IF they get the chance. Thompson, the NCAA MVP, gets the ball a lot with Perpetual Help, which allowed him to pile on the stats that made him MVP. On this team that
It has been about a half-decade now since the PBA D League got going. That D in its name stands for "Developmental". Looking back on the five short years it has been around though, development seems to just be a nasty rumor for the league.
When the idea for the D League first came around it was a product of the times. The old Philippine Basketball League (PBL) had played out its last tournament in late 2009, and a vacuum was created in that "bridge stage" for college / varsity / commercial league players before they took their crack at the PBA. In that last PBL hurrah, Excel Roof, featuring the core of the then-NCAA champion San Sebastian Golden Stags under Ato Agustin, won the crown. It was a truly golden year for those Stags.
Many of those same San Sebastian players would go on to play for the NLEX Road Warriors, who have won all but one D League championship since the league began.
It has been asked before by Gameface: where is the D in all this?
After all these years the answer is clear: the D is not what you think it stands for.
Let's hear from PBA (and by extension PBA D League) Commissioner Chito Salud: "When we started this (D League) five years ago, we allowed direct hires, because the league itself is not yet established," he explained in one interview about a month and a half ago over a brouhaha related to the first-ever D League draft which we will get to shortly. "We want to establish the league first," he added.
In the aftermath of that inaugural rookie draft, three draft picks wound up going to teams different from the teams that drafted them.
Chris Newsome, the Ateneo star swingman, was drafted by Tanduay Light, but wound up signing with Hapee, apparently because Tanduay Light failed to get him to sign a tender offer within a five-day period after the draft. That made Newsome a free agent under D League rules. That then allowed him to sign with Hapee.
As expected, Tanduay Light head coach Lawrence Chongson just plain went ballistic, going on a weeks-long media rant about the uselessness of the draft, and how the D League seemed to be "rigged" in favor of the bigger-spending teams. "Taguan ka lang ng player for five days papano na?" Chongson lamented in one interview.
We will not get into the he said-she said exchange that then ensued between Chongson and Newsome's agent Charlie Dy. Suffice it to say, Chongson was summoned by Salud, they talked about the whole Newsome situation, and Chongson got hit with a one-game suspension coupled with a bright and shiny P150,000 fine.
One other player decided he was not going to play for Tanduay Light in the ongoing Aspirants Cup, FEU star Mac Belo. Belo for his part claims he told Tanduay management as early as the last D League conference that if his school fields a team he will play for his school team. FEU did field a D League team this conference, carrying the MJM Builders banner. Belo dutifully joined MJM-FEU.
Chongson went after Belo too, threatening to take legal action since Belo apparently had a live contract with Tanduay. After his meeting with Salud, the Belo affair was dropped and forgotten as well.
Two more draftees wound up in effect getting 'traded" for each other. Lasalle center Arnold Van Opstal was picked third by Cafe France. Fil-Am guard Maverick Ahanmisi was taken ninth by Hapee. Van Opstal eventually signed with Hapee. Ahanmisi wound up with Cafe France. Since draft picks cannot be traded under D League rules, one can only assume both players just allowed the five-day period to expire, with their drafting teams not moving either. As free agents they signed with the teams that wanted them. It seems strange though that a team would trade a third pick for a ninth pick, especially if that third pick is a 6-foot-8 center coveted by almost every team.
So it turns out all of Chongson's laments were not unfounded after all. It seems the draft didn't really improve the lot of teams that were really looking to build on it. Newsome and Van Opstal join a powerhouse Hapee squad that features 6-foot-8 Nigerian Ola Adeogun, 6-foot-7 NU star Troy Rosario, two-time UAAP MVP Ray Parks, and veteran D LEague star Garvo Lanete and Kirk Long. Considering Long and Adeogun will never see PBA action unless they are taken in as imports, it seems Hapee needs little to no development.
One can only surmise therefore that the development here is not for individual players, or even for fledgling teams. Development here is for the league itself. It looks like the D League is being developed in its entirety as a league. Salud's own words all but confirm that.
The PBA is apparently looking to establish and develop the D League into a legit farm league, much like the NBA D League after which it is somewhat patterned. That it has 12 teams now, in
Let's take a look at how the various PBA D League teams did in the first-ever D League Draft over the weekend:
Round 1 ___
1. Cagayan - Moala Tautuaa, 6-7, 230 pounds, Forward-center
Tautuaa is an ASEAN Basketball League veteran who brings a lot of size and athleticism to a Cagayan squad sorely lacking both. However, he isn't exactly a classic low post big man, and likes to play from the outside going in. Fans will see shades of Kelly Williams and Jay Washington in him, but only shades. Still, he was far and away the consensus Number 1 choice as the top pick in this draft.
2. Tanduay - Chris Newsome, 6-2, 185 pounds, Swingman
Newsome is arguably the best all-around player in this draft, bringing a complete package of athletic ability and skill. He will probably play forward for Tanduay, the same position he plays for the Ateneo. "Siya talaga gusto kong kunin," declared Coach Lawrence Chongson. "Mas gusto ko 'yung speed and skill kesa sa size."
3. Cafe France-CEU - Arnold Van Opstal, 6-8, 235 pounds, Center
Van Opstal probably has the best combination of athleticism and size after Tautuaa, and Cafe France can certainly use a lot of that. He isn't exactly a high-skill player though, and will need the ball in the right spots to produce, but he does hit the boards hard and distracts opposing players with his height and length. "Management decision to get him," Coach Egay Macaraya simply said.
4. Cebuana Lhuillier - Norbert Torres, 6-6, 235 pounds, Center
Torres plays behind Van Opstal in Lasalle but is actually the more skilled and productive player between the two. Like Van Opstal though, Torres needs to get the ball in the right spots to produce, although he does have a bit more in terms of spot-up shooting from up to 15 feet, and has some nifty post moves inside. He'll be most valuable off both boards and helping on defense with his ability to block shots on the weak side.
5. Jumbo Plastic - Kris Rosales, 6-0, 175 pounds, Pointguard
Rosales made the news about a year ago when he was being seriously considered for the NBA's D League. He brings a complete package to the pointguard position for Jumbo but will probably find himself attacking and scoring more than setting the table for his team. Think of him right now as a poor man's Mike Cortez, or a bigger Roi Sumang.
6. M Builders-FEU - Anthony Hargrove, 6-6, 215 pounds, Forward-center
As a school tie-in, M Builders went for the FEU center to bolster their inside game. Hargrove is an athletic, hard worker type who hits the boards and gets some opportunistic baskets inside. He will be among familiar faces and that should make things a little easier for him in the D League.
7. Wangs - Rob Hainga, 6-5, 200 pounds, Forward-center
Hainga barely stirred on the UST roster over the last couple of years and is strictly a backup big man. He probably won't bring much for Wangs other than his 6-foot-5 frame and five fouls.
8. Racal/St Clare - Fabien Redoh, 6-3, 190 pounds, Forward
Redoh is a Cameroonian import and a mainstay for the St Clare Saints in the NAASCU. He will have to find a way to produce against much more talented and taller timber in the D League. Perhpas he can put his snappy mid-range jumper to good use here to open up the lanes.
9. Hapee/San Beda - Maverick Ahanmisi, 6-1, 190 pounds, Guard
Ahanmisi is a legit US NCAA Division 1 player who attended the University of Minnesota. Although he was an end-bench player for the Golden Gophers, he still put in time for a legit Division 1 program, the same program that produced NBA legend Kevin McHale. Ahanmisi might become a Sol Mercado-lite.
10. AMA - Zaldy Angeles, 5-11, 170 pounds, Swingman
Zaldy Angeles is another one of those high skill players strutting his stuff in a small league. He will be sorely tested in the D League environment.
11. MP Hotel - Wowie Escosio, 6-1, 180 pounds, Forward
Escosio helped the UV Green Lancers win the 2013 CESAFI title but was let go prior to this season due reportedly to a questionable attitude. There is no doubt as to his talent, with his ability to score and also help off the defensive boards. He will get a chance to show if he indeed has the big city game to back up his supreme self confidence.
12. Bread Story/Lyceum - John Azores, 5-9, 160 pounds, Guard
Yet another school-based pick, Azores was a mainstay of the Lyceum Pirates in the NCAA. He is a high skill player who does not really have an elite-level game to hang his hat upon. Look for him to help advance the ball against pressure and maybe provide some outside shooting.