It’s a rare treat. The Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Governor’s Cup semis is on and it features four of the biggest pro teams in the country. It also puts a spotlight on two of the biggest basketball groups in the country – the Manny V. Pagilinan (MVP) and the San Miguel Corporation (SMC) groups – that are archrivals both in the pros and collegiate ranks. MVP’s Meralco Bolts and TNT Ka Tropa battle SMC’s Star Hotshots and Barangay Ginebra respectively in a best-of-five series.
Both the Bolts and Ka Tropa, who enjoyed a twice-to-beat advantage in the quarters, were forced to a sudden death match by Blackwater Elite and Rain or Shine (ROS) Elasto Painters respectively. Baser Amer exploded for 31 markers to help Meralco escape with the 104-96 win over Blackwater. Glenn Rice Jr. spearheaded TNT with an almost triple-double game (34 points, 16 rebounds, 9 assists) in a thrilling 118-114 victory over ROS. Star and Ginebra just needed one game to boot out NLEX and San Miguel Beer respectively.
Meralco versus Star. Allen Durham and his Meralco sidekicks are on a mission to erase the stigma of their 2016 Governor’s Cup title defeat at the hands of Ginebra. They finished on top of the elimination round and are determined to go all the way to winning a PBA crown for head coach Norman Black. The Bolts nipped the Hotshots, 96-90, in their first and only meeting this conference. They used a strong start to erect a 32-15 first quarter lead, and led by as many as 20 in the game. Star made a tough stand in the payoff period but ran out of time. We should expect a more defense-oriented series, as Meralco and Star are two of the best defensive teams in the current tournament, allowing only an average of 91.36 and 91.96 points respectively to their opponents in the elimination phase. In offense, the Hotshots are slightly better with 102.18 points per game (PPG) as opposed to the Bolts’ 101.36. They also lead the league in total field goal percentage with 45.77%, even as the Bolts are the most accurate from beyond the arc with a 37.72% shooting clip. These two squads are also the most efficient in the tournament with the least turnovers. But Star is No. 1 in turnover points (22.73 PPG) while Meralco is dead last (15.27 PPG). Durham is getting excellent support from Chris Newsome, Amer and Jared Dillinger. But it’s Ranidel De Ocampo’s arrival to the team that might spell the difference in the series with his playoffs experience and all-around game. But Star could have the edge in size and bench depth with import Kristofer Acox, Paul Lee, Ian Sanggalang, Aldrech Ramos, Mark Pingris, Jio Jalalon and Mark Barroca.
TNT versus Ginebra. Tim Cone, Justin Brownlee and the rest of Barangay Ginebra will surely try to retain their Governor’s Cup title. And they have the tools to do it. The return of 6’11” center Greg Slaughter has certainly boosted the Kings’ campaign with norms of 14.4 points, 9.7 boards and 1.5 blocks. LA Tenorio, Japeth Aguilar, Joe Devance, Scottie Thompson and Sol Mercado make a solid crew that play beautiful music in Cone’s Triangle Offense. Ginebra also tops the league in assists (26.55), second-chance points (17.09) and shot-blocks (7.64). But the Ka Tropa pose a colossal stumbling block in the Gins’ title-retention bid. Finishing No. 2 in the elims, TNT is league-best in offense with 106 PPG. First year coach Nash Racela, who led the squad to a bridesmaid finish last conference, looks ready to challenge Cone and the defending champs with his Dribble-Drive offense. Rice has been remarkable so far and appears to be getting better by the day. He is proving to be more than just an excellent scorer. And he seems to be more comfortable now with his local mates, which makes TNT a dreaded scoring machine. Jayson Castro, Troy Rosario, Ryan Reyes, Mo Tautuaa, Tony Semerad, RR Pogoy and Kelly Williams have all figured well this conference. In this collision, we can anticipate a heavy barrage of firepower between two high-scoring sides. But the imports will likely make the biggest impact in the series.
Expect both semis battles to go the distance.