The Philippine Basketball Association is back in business. And we are now down to the last four survivors in the PBA Philippine Cup. For those who have been too preoccupied with the pandemic, as well as the twin typhoons that devastated the country recently, here’s a bit of a respite as we witness 2 grueling series with each team throwing haymakers like crazy.
With the defending champs and perennial title contender San Miguel Beermen surprisingly bundled off early, the never-say-die Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Gin Kings and the TNT Tropang Giga emerged as the prohibitive favorites to reach the Finals. But the rejuvenated Meralco Bolts and the upstart Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters are determined to make the semifinals look more interesting, with amazing fightbacks that have clearly grabbed the attention of discerning Filipino cage fans.
Ginebra and Meralco are tied 1-1 in their best-of-five series. Ginebra looked dominating with a 96-79 series opener, with Stanley Pringle and Scottie Thompson providing the offense, and Japeth Aguilar establishing his presence in the middle. But the no-quit Meralco Bolts came back with a powerful 95-77 counterpunch of their own to tie the series. Balanced scoring led by Chris Newsome, Allein Maliksi, and Bong Quinto; the ferocious rebounding from veterans Raymond Almazan and Reynel Hugnatan; plus an intense switching defense and a super-quick transition offense did the trick for the Bolts in the second game.
In the other match-up, TNT relied on their championship experience to nose out Phoenix in Game 1, 95-92. Bucking the early exit of top Most Valuable Player candidate Matthew Wright due to an ankle injury, Phoenix nevertheless showed surprising resilience in keeping in step with TNT. Veteran Jayson Castro saved the day for the Tropang Giga with a late burst, with Poy Erram providing support fire under the shaded lane. But Phoenix refused to bend a knee. Starring the newly-reinstated Calvin Abueva and a vastly-improved Jason Perkins, Phoenix bounced back, outlasting TNT 110-103 in a reversal of roles in Game 2. TNT’s Ray Ray Parks was sizzling with 41 points going into the final canto, before fouling out on a charge against Abueva. Without Parks’ white-hot shooting, TNT would be unable to stem Phoenix’ heroic struggle to survive.
With TNT and Meralco still in the thick of the fight, the MVP business conglomerate has 2 bets in the race for the crown. There is the intriguing possibility of having the 2 MVP companies meeting in the Finals, should TNT hurdle the Phoenix challenge, and Meralco upset the juggernaut Gins. TNT Tropang Giga gives them a strong contender with 5 internationalists in Castro, Parks, Roger Pogoy and the twin towers Erram and Troy Rosario. Meralco, on the other hand, will be banking on Coach Norman Black’s stingy defense and a quick transition offense starring Newsome, Cliff Hodge and Baser Amer to give the Bolts a fighting chance against the dangerous Gins.
The beleaguered RSA Business Group is counting on Ginebra to maintain their continued presence in the PBA Finals, after both the San Miguel Beermen and the Magnolia Hotshots got booted out early. Leading the charge is their ironman LA Tenorio; plus scorers Pringle and 2-way star Thompson. Japeth is displaying a newfound strength with the departure of Greg Slaughter at the center slot. With 4 internationalists in their roster, Coach Tim Cone’s Gin Kings are now the top seeds to reach the Finals this season.
Finally, there’s the refreshing challenge posed by the newbies from the Phoenix Fuelmasters. Matthew Wright posted Most Valuable Player stats in leading the team’s regular season charge and the quarterfinal romp against the dangerous Magnolia Hotshots. But he crashed to an ankle injury at the very start of the semis series. In Wright’s absence, Abueva, Perkins and RJ Jasul have stepped up to fill the void. A first-time semi-finalist, Phoenix poses a new stimulant in the PBA mix. And many young fans are starting to root for this underdog team, having showed a lot of heart despite being short in height and in experience against TNT’s troops.
With both semis series tied at 1-1, the PBA Philippine Cup is headed for thrilling down-the-wire face-offs. There’s the crowd-favorite, the never-say die Ginebra Gin Kings. There’s the equally-talented TNT Tropang Giga. Then there’s the no-quit Meralco Bolts. And finally, the exciting upstarts, the Phoenix FuelMasters. PBA fans, who you got?
For a clearer view, just click on the pics. Cover photo courtesy of PBA.ph, Business Mirror, Inq.net, Fastbreak.com.ph. Other pics courtesy of: PBA.ph, Rappler and Inquirer Sports.