What a week it has been!!! We’re down to the last four magnificent gladiators in this grueling, bone-crushing war-of-a-PBA season. Four warriors had failed to answer the second round of battles. The week saw four more succumb to fatal blows inflicted in the latest clash of titans. As the swirling dust of battle cleared, only our four survivors remain, bruised but unbowed.
In a week or two, we will find out who will step forward to the grand arena to contend for the crown as the Kings of the All-Filipino Cage Kingdom. It is crunch-time in the PBA, it is win-or-die! Who will win the games that matter? Who will be left to dry?
In the first match-up, it is a tussle between perennial contender and heavy betting favorite, the San Miguel Beermen; and the newest sensations in the league, the Phoenix Elite Fuelmasters. It is the big, burly Goliath against the pesky upstart, David.
Featuring Jun Mar Fajardo, the most decorated gladiator in local hoopsville; plus heralded straight-shooters whose names have wreaked havoc in the land – Alex Cabagnot, Marcio Lassiter, Chris Ross and that new arrival Terrence Romeo – the Beermen are odds-on favorites despite toting a lower win-loss card. With their easy demolition of the TNT KaTropa in their final quarterfinal match, the Beermen flaunt the fact that they can easily turn on the heat if and when they want to. And the heat can come from so many sources, inside and out.
But the merry band of brothers across the table are clearly unfazed. Phoenix’ toughened triad composed of Calvin Abueva, Matthew Wright and Jayson Perkins are enjoying the ride of their lives, and they are not ready to give up the dream without a fight. The Fuel Masters believe their teamwork and tenacity will trump the Beermen’s talent. With the marvelous coaching of that defense-wizard, Louie Alas, the high-octane Fuel Masters will need a near-flawless game to upend the reign of the mighty Beermen. But they do believe they have what it takes to hit the big-time.
The Beermen have a lethal inside-outside game that is tried and tested. Their bench is so deep, their second wave could be as potent as their first. But the Fuel Masters have a doggedly-determined defense that has won for them many new fans. Their swarming defense will be their biggest asset against the Beer-guzzling behemoths. For this match, the head says it’s the battering ram that is the Beermen; but the heart goes to the small-balling Fuel Masters.
Over on the other end, it is the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters matching wits with the Magnolia Hotshots.
Much like Phoenix, the Elasto Painters finished their regular season games early, necessitating an early peaking time. This has benefitted the team, leading to runaway wins at the early stage. However, this is a double-edged sword as the long lay-off could make the players rusty. The Painters’ advantage will be in the shaded lane, where the likes of veterans Beau Belga, Gabe Norwood and Rey Almazan patrol the grounds with the single-mindedness of a stormtrooper.
The Magnolia Hotshots, on the other hand, were sacked and savaged in the early stages. But they showed their resilience and that champion pedigree by peaking in time for the more important playoff games. With a veteran guard core composed of internationalists Marc Barroca, Paul Lee and Jio Jalalon leading the way, the Hotshots upended the league’s most popular squad, Barangay Ginebra’s Gin Kings. The Hotshots will rely on their vaunted speed and sizzling shooting to counter the Painters’ size and strength advantage.
The Hotshots have a 3-heavy offense predicated on a fast-paced attack, plenty of spacing and superb ball movement to find the open man. They have the upperhand in the back-court match-ups. The Painters however have a stronger all-around game, with a bigger, brawnier frontcourt. This match-up will be a test of wills. Can Magnolia’s backcourt trio of Barroca, Lim and Jalalon impose their will? Or will the veteran crew of Norwood, Belga and James Yap break them down? Whoever dictates the pace wins the best-of-seven series.
This will be a war, folks, with no quarters given, no quarters asked. Four magnificent warriors have entered the arena. Each with his own weapon of choice, each with his strength and weakness. Only two will be worthy to advance to the final battle.
Who will make it to the Finals? Which warrior will ultimately hoist the flag in victory? My fearless forecast: whosoever wins the battle of liquids – beer or gas – will win the prestigious All-Filipino crown. Place your bets, folks. It’s time for war.
(All photos courtesy of pba.ph)
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