The PBA Philippine Cup Finals will start on Wednesday, 09 January, with the matchup featuring the two-time defending champion Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters and the rising Rain or Shine Elastopainters. TNT has been atop the standings all throughout the conference and was rightfully expected to be in the Finals. Rain or Shine got better and better as the conference went on, and seems to be at peak form just as the title is up for grabs.
Many favor TNT because of experience and a deep line-up stacked with well-known PBA mainstays. For those who have often watched ROS play, the series is a toss-up because the “lesser-known” Elasto Painters are not weak at any position and have played unparalleled team ball, proving that the whole is surely better than its (supposedly) “weaker” parts.
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This series should probably go six or seven games. While I will not predict who will outlast the other, below is a list of five things I expect to see as this series progresses.
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Time and again, ROS has shown its preference to get physical with its opponents. The formula has been working since the third conference of last season, so why wouldn’t they? The great thing for ROS is that it has the perfect personnel to carry out the physical gameplan: tough frontliners in Beau Belga, JR Quiñahan, Ronnie Matias, Larry Rodriguez, and Jervy Cruz, and gritty backcourt men who can dish it out and take it, too, in Paul Lee, Jireh Ibañes, Chris Tiu, and Ryan Araña. TNT has exceptional players, big and small, but they will have to counter the bump and grind of ROS and, in doing so, might have to change their games a little.
While Harvey Carey and Ali Peek are extremely strong, and Kelly Williams and Ranidel de Ocampo are tall and aggressive, they know their hands will be full with the ROS frontline. They must focus on the game and not the calls (or non-calls). The same goes for the TNT guards/wingmen, Jimmy Alapag, Jason Castro, Ryan Reyes, Larry Fonacier, and Jared Dillinger, who are tough and have to expect to bang, even on the perimeter. Young, determined Pamboy Raymundo may be used in spells primarily due to the backcourt physicality.
In this New Year, expect fireworks. Referees, please be in control. (And don’t check the monitor all the time just to make sure of the calls!)
A Coaches’ Duel.
ROS Coach Yeng Guiao is predictably unpredictable. That is one of his strengths and has proven to be his advantage in many of his team’s victories thus far. TNT’s Norman Black preaches toughness on defense, focus, and pinpoint execution. Right now, we can be sure they are both constantly thinking of different tactics to outwit each other, and as the series goes on, they will draw up new plays, implement new strategies, and during pre- and post-game interviews, will surely say things that will get each other to think.
There will be some sort of psy-war, if you will, and while we know Coach Yeng engages in more of that than Coach Norman, it would be quite a surprise if the latter doesn’t come up with retorts and rejoinders each time. Be ready for quotable quotes from the coaches and their assistants, and expect the players to expound on whatever their coaches told them in the locker room, translating into actions on the court or in “fighting words” during interviews. If anything, we will surely be entertained.
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Both these teams want to pound each other into the ground. BUT, they will run at every opportunity to try to get quick, easy points, and avoid trying to outmuscle each other in halfcourt sets. The quicker players up and down the floor belong to TNT. Alapag and Castro are two of the league’s quickest, and when I thought of “blurring speed”, surely Castro was on my mind. Known as “The Blur”, the fastest player in the league will try to be even quicker in this series, leaking out to anticipate touchdown heaves from his big men. It will be interesting to see which E-Painter gets the defensive assignment on Castro, with the duty to also act as “safety” if ever Castro decides to cherry-pick.
Rain or Shine is a fastbreak machine in that it has so many players who finish the break very well, including its frontliners. As a result, both teams’ transition defense will be severely tested. There will not be time to celebrate baskets in this series. After each conversion, players will need to run back and get into their defensive stances because the other team will surely be raring to go and get back the score on the other end.
Possible X-Factors: Ryan Reyes and Jireh Ibañes.
Names have already been mentioned as to who the “X-factors” will be in the series. Jeff Chan has to shoot well, Castro has to penetrate and orchestrate, Ranidel has to play big, Lee has to be clutch, etc. The two players that can surely affect the action are the big, defense-playing guards of each team, Reyes for TNT and Ibañes for ROS.
They will draw the toughest defensive assignments on the wings and the perimeter, but they will also be counted upon to run on their respective teams’ fastbreaks, hit open three-pointers, and be willing to literally sacrifice their bodies and take one, two, or many more, for their teams. At the end of games, their statistics may not be as impressive as their more heralded teammates, but surely, both coaches know the value of these two gentlemen and how much their play, if up to par, can have an effect on the series.
There are three-point gunners involved in this series. There are big men who shoot the three (Belga, Quiñahan, Matias for ROS, Ranidel and Williams for TNT), and smaller guys who like to shoot from anywhere (Alapag, Castro, Reyes, Fonacier, and Dillinger for TNT, Chan, Tang, Tiu, Lee, Araña for ROS). The three-point shot will surely be a factor, as success from beyond the arc will dictate how defenses change, how matchups will differ, and how wide the spaces in the paint will be as the series progresses.
Surely, each team has the personnel to rain the arena with threes. ROS did not have a good three-point shooting series versus San Mig Coffee, but we all expect that to improve in the Finals. Alapag basically eliminated Alaska with a second half three-point barrage that opened up the gap in an otherwise close Game 6 with the Aces the other day. The accuracy of three-point shooting also becomes important in relation to one matter we discussed above – fastbreaks. Long shots missed usually mean long rebounds, and a chance for the defensive team, if they get the board, to quickly initiate their offense and, perhaps, get an easy lay-up on the other end. To reiterate, transition defense will again be tested.
Will it be the perennial contender Tropang Texters, or the emerging Elasto Painters? PBA Philippine Cup Finals, mag-uumpisa. Kampihan na!
You can follow Charlie Cuna on Twitter @Charlie C.
Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.