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PBA Finals: Stand and Deliver By Joseph W Buduan

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After one of the most frenetically paced conferences in its history, the 2012 PBA Commissioner’s Cup has come down to two teams: BMEG and Talk N Text. They faced each other only one other time this conference, with TNT beating BMEG 102-96 in the single-round eliminations. TNT is the second best offensive club averaging over 100 points per game, while BMEG leads the league in defense allowing only 87 points per game.
Both teams went through a bit of a wringer in the Final 4 semifinals against Barangay Ginebra and Barako Bull respectively. In the end though, both powerhouses came in with strong finishing kicks to reach the Finals. BMEG needed four games out of five to get the job done, while TNT survived being down 1-2 before breaking through.
As this is an import-reinforced conference, the respective American imports of either team are the focal points for this series, although they themselves are not strict make-or-break deals. TNT has NBA veteran Donnel Harvey, a 6-foot-10 center-forward. BMEG leans on international veteran Denzel Bowles, also 6-foot-10. Both Americans are cut from the same cloth: power-playing, board crashing, shot blocking athletes with only average touch from anywhere beyond 10-12 feet. Both are veritable double-double machines who can score inside and clean glass on both ends, but have a hard time making a shot anywhere other than in the immediate paint area. Neither is even an average free throw shooter. This means they could conceivably just cancel each other out. It seems doubtful that one is at any real advantage over the other.
Bowles had sort of a break going up against Jackson Vroman in their series versus the Gin Kings. Vroman isn’t exactly an athlete although he did match up well enough size-wise against Bowles. Vroman, at 6-foot-11, had the size but just did not have the speed and agility to stay toe-to-toe against Bowles. For his part, Harvey was literally looking down against his counterpart with the Energy. 6-foot-6 Gabe Freeman is a former two-time PBA Best Import and proven champion, but simply gave away too much in terms of size against Harvey. Harvey often found himself guarded by the slower-moving Mick Pennisi or Dorian Pena.
That means the local players will most likely be the difference between victory and defeat in a series that promises to go down the wire. Neither team is bereft of proven superstars who all have championship experience and all-league credentials. TNT is widely acknowledged as being arguably the most talent-stocked team in the PBA, but BMEG’s roster is nothing to sneeze at either.
For the Llamados, everything begins and ends with former MVP James Yap. Yap, a strongly-built 6-foot-2 swingman with a deadly trigger and incredible range, is one of the best scorers of the PBA of all time. He can knock down the long three-pointer with many hands in his face as easily as drive and pull up. He has also developed his passing and decoy-playing skills, making him truly a multiple threat. Yap’s biggest sin however is that he is at best an average defender and rebounder. He will normally only take in caroms that come his way, and is not particularly known for getting in the stance and dogging his man. So if for some reason his shot isn’t falling, he has to make himself useful as a play maker and facilitator, or else his Llamados will have a tough time matching the combined firepower of the Tropang Texters.
Speaking of firepower, this might be the best time to shine for backup swingman Peter June Simon. Simon, a 6-foot-1 shooting guard who sometimes plays 3 in a three-guard set, is almost as good as Yap when it comes to scoring. He certainly has a better sense of shot selection, unlike Yap who does not discriminate as long as he is within 30 feet of the basket. Simon allows Yap to freelance more when the two are on the floor together. Opposing defenses have to respect Simon’s offense almost as much as Yap’s. Unlike Yap though, Simon is a strong and underrated perimeter defender who works hard fighting through staggered screens.
Both men will be severely tested though since the Tropang Texters have their own MVP backcourt in pointguard Jimmy Alapag and his just-as-talented partner Jason Castro. Alapag and Castro are arguably the best backcourt combo in the league. They have been co-Finals MVP, creating all sorts of problems with their speed, explosiveness and scoring. Both men can hit long jumpers and have range all the way past the three-point arc, can drive and pull up, break down defenses with their dribble penetration, and run like Olympic sprinters in transition. They may not quite be the long-range gunner that Yap and Simon are, but they can score in far more ways and alternate at the 1 and 2 spots with ease.
Up front, BMEG might be one of the few teams that can boast a real size advantage against TNT. 6-foot-9 Yancy De Ocampo, 6-foot-9 Rafi Reavis, 6-foot-6 Joe Devance and 6-foot-5 Marc Pingris rotate at the 4 and 5 spots for the Llamados. All of them are able defenders and board crashers. De Ocampo and Devance even have the ability to stick the medium-range jump shot. Pingris is normally the designated import stopper, and his athletic ability allows him to match up well even against a strong comer like Harvey. Reavis has a wingspan that is nearly seven feet, plus the agility of a perimeter player in a long and tall package.
They will be going up against another former MVP in 6-foot-7 forward Kelly Williams, 6-foot-6 forward Ranidel De Ocampo (Yancy’s more talented younger brother), bulky 6-foot-5 Ali Peek, 6-foot-5 small forward Jared Dillinger and hardworking 6-foot-3 forward Harvey Carey. Although they aren’t as tall or long as the BMEG frontline, the TNT big men are far more talented across the board. Williams alone could easily take any of the BMEG forwards one-on-one. The younger De Ocampo is nearly as talented as Williams. Both men play inside and outside, and will be tough covers for the Llamados. Peek and Carey aren’t all that tall, but they are bull-strong and relentless off both boards. Peek has one of the most underrated low post games in the league. Dillinger might become the X Factor for this series. While he has the size and strength of a true forward, he also has good guard skills and an unorthodox shot.
The two coaches in this series are both battle-tested mentors. Tim Cone is pushing two decades in the league and owns one of its four grand slams. His triangle offense was not held in high esteem among the BMEG faithful and yet he has won over the doubters. “We just have to believe first that we can beat Talk N Text. Yes, they are a tough team, but I think we can beat them. Barako Bull proved they can be beaten,” Cone explained in one interview.
Vincent “Chot” Reyes is another old hand in the league. This will not be the first time he will face Cone for a title. Reyes has won three times in five title fights against Cone. “This will be close, and it will come down to who can execute at the finish,” Reyes said. “We have great respect for BMEG. We are ready for the Finals,” he added.
Even PBA Commissioner Chito Salud weighed in. “I think this will be a real treat for the fans, not just for the BMEG and Talk N Text fans, but for all fans of the game,” he said in the pre-Championship media event. “Both teams have great talents. There’s no clear favorite between them,” he added.
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