Howdy-doody, folks!!! Once again, us cage addicts were treated to a plateful of sizzling hardcourt action. From the US NCAA basketball’s March Madness, to the rush to get to the NBA playoffs, to the ongoing Asean Basketball League semifinals, and finally, to the recently-concluded PBA Finals, basketball fanatics have seen non-stop action at its best. It was ridiculous basketball overload for those who love to eat balls for breakfast, lunch, supper and snacks.
Being a hardcourt fan myself, I could hardly leave my seat to get my fill of popcorn and beer, as the boobtube action popped non-stop highlights of action and excitement.
For spine-tingling action and drama down to the last second, nothing can beat the recently-concluded US NCAA Women’s Championship won in stunning fashion by Notre Dame. Arike Ogunbowale had delivered a last-second dagger shot 2 days prior in the semis match-up, bumping off league-legend UConn 91-89 in overtime. She delivered – yet again – another 3-point shot to destroy Mississippi State 61-58 for the championship in dramatic come-from-behind fashion.
Mississippi led 58-53 with more than a minute left to play. The pugnacious Notre Dame Fighting Irish tied the game with 40 ticks remaining. With 3 seconds and ball possession, Arike took the throw-in, dribbled twice and let fly a high-arching desperation shot from deep right corner to snatch the win. And the championship.
Arike will go down in NCAA lore as the only player – man or woman – to have scored the winning buzzer-beater shots in both the semis and the finals of the NCAA tournament. This well-celebrated 2018 season finale will go down in history as the most dramatic, with the 2 semifinal games won in overtime, and the finals determined by a buzzer beater.
In the Men’s Finals, the juggernaut Villanova Wildcats won its second title in 3 years, bending Michigan 79-62 with a barrage of 18(!!!) 3-pointers to win pulling away. Michigan came prepared, with answers for the Nova’s first five. They forgot about the 6th man.
Donte DiVincenzo came off the bench, almost singlehandedly erased Michigan’s early 7-point lead, and scored a superstar-worthy performance of 31 points in the biggest stage of his young basketball career. Donte goes down in history as the guy who has scored the most number of points in an NCAA Final Four game, coming off the bench.
In the NBA, the real season has just begun. After more than 5 months of experimenting with line-ups, of honing offensive and defensive patterns, of scouting the strengths and weaknesses of rival teams, and of protecting and preparing their own stars as best they can, the top 16 teams in the NBA finally entered the gladiators’ den this week.
We are now down to the final 16. It is the playoffs. It is time to be serious. It is the time when key players must now come to play major minutes, unmindful of the risk of injuries. Where the step-ladder elimination is a duel to the death. Where you win and move up to face the next worthy opponent; or you lose and go home humbled.
This year, the traditional end-of-season rivalry between the Golden State Warriors, the kings of the West, and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the lords of the East, is seriously under threat.
The Golden State Warriors, starring its all-star Fab Four – had been considered shoo-ins for the NBA Finals at the start of the season. Unfortunately, they’ve been hit by an epidemic of injuries, with main man Steph Curry himself unable to join the team for the first round of the playoffs.
The Cleveland Cavaliers, perennial Finals dance-partners to the Warriors, have had to shed off unwanted flab (aka old age), in preparation for the crucial playoff run. The relatively younger, new-look Cavs need time to jell. That the King Cav, Lebron James, has played every game all season long, and has put in major, major minutes is not just a testament to his fitness and resilience. It is also an indication of a serious manpower shortage.
In the west, Golden State will contend with the regular season leaders, the Houston Rockets. The arrival of Chris Paul in an already stuffed backcourt eases the pressure off season-MVP hopeful, James Harden. The Rockets have the distinction of having the league’s most devastating offense, armed with a 3-point artillery crew far more destructive than that of the Warriors. This much-awaited shooting war will be so lethal, it will be fun to watch.
In the east, it is the fast-maturing Philadelphia 76ers that is looming as the Cavs’ key adversary, as opposed to the division-leading Toronto Raptors. The Raptors have a notorious distinction of underachieving come the playoffs. This, they will have to erase. Phila’s young turks, on the other hand, have been playing happy lately, with 16 straight wins to close the season.
My fearless forecast: Whosoever survives the gunslingers’ duel in the wild, wild West will devour any court-pretender from the East.
In the regional scene, the late-blooming San Miguel Alab Pilipinas took Game 1 of their best-of-three semifinal playoff match against defending champions, Hongkong Eastern Long Lions 98-94. The other half of the semis pits Bangkok’s Mono Vampires against Chong San Kung Fu from Nanhai, China.
Renaldo Balkman, banned from playing in the Philippines’ PBA for on-court disorderly conduct, appears to be atoning for his past indiscretion with an amazing all-around, well-behaved effort. His 46-point production in Game 1 eclipsed the previous record set by Justin Howard last year. Another win, with Game 2 to be played in the Philippines, and the San Miguel Alab enters the ABL Finals.
In the PBA, the San Miguel Beermen extended their reign as rulers of the Philippine Cup with a masterful series-clinching, come-from-behind win over the unrelenting Magnolia Hotshots. With MVP June Mar Fajardo exploding a 42-point, 20 rebound spectacle-of-a-performance, the Beermen just couldn’t be denied. At only 28 years old, June Mar’s scintillating feat has netted for him 4 PBA MVP awards, and 6 PBA championships. And we expect more in the years to come.
There you have it, folks. The week that was. Will the sharp-shooting Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers meet for the fourth time in the NBA Finals? Will the Rockets in the West, or the 76ers in the east give the Finals a new flavor? Will San Miguel Alab Pilipinas make it all the way to the Finals? Last week’s cage offerings put me to hoop heaven. Stay glued for more next week.
Pics thanks to Rappler, Coupons.com, Michigan Radio, Business Insider, Yahoo sports, Washington post, New york Times, PBA, Asbury Park Press, Sporting News.