In this nation, Manila Clasico is basketball at its finest. It is the SuperBowl of Philippine basketball, the WrestleMania of the PBA. It’s that one game that you just have to watch live. And it doesn’t matter how opposite the two teams’ records are – one may have a perfect slate and the other may be winless – you still know it’s gonna be one heck of a basketball game. That’s why during eliminations, Manila Clasico is always held on Sundays. The day reserved for big games. So that work will not get in the way of the millions of die-hard hoop fans wanting to watch the classic clash.
And at that moment, the game venue gets packed to the ceiling. Across the country, strangers meet in front of TV sets. Thousands of people are on their phones, trying to get Twitter or texting everyone they know just to get updates on the game. That is how important a Ginebra-San Mig Coffee duel is.
Now, as the two teams meet in the semi-finals, Manila Clasico will happen every other night. Imagine that. Every. Other. Night.
This rivalry was born in the late 80′s, during what we can call the Sonny Jaworski era. He, along with his Añejo (now Brgy. Ginebra) was the institution in the league back then. Suddenly, Purefoods (now the San Mig Coffee) came in a fresh set of faces. Then youngins Alvin Patrimonio, Jojo Lastimosa and Jerry Codiñera at the forefront of Purefoods emergence and were seen as Añejo’s mortal enemy.
Over two decades later, the story remains but table has been flipped. The San Mig Coffee Mixers that have been the most consistent team in the league. This is already their sixth consecutive semis appearance. But out of nowhere, here comes Ginebra – a team who needed a playoff to get to last conference’s quarterfinals. With the addition of top rookie Greg Slaughter and the stellar play of relatively-young Japeth Aguilar, they have taken the league by storm. They are no longer ‘barely making it’. Instead, they bagged the top seed after eliminations.
And now, Ginebra and San Mig Coffee meet in a seven-game series. It, perhaps, is a Pinoy basketball fan’s ultimate dream. Expect nothing less than an all out war. Sure, this is about the 2013-14 Philippine Cup. It is what both teams are after. But there is no removing that this is still Manila Clasico. The story is already attached to these two teams.
It has been more than 20 years and this rivalry is still as intense. Credit it to the thousands of die-hards of both teams. They stuck with their team through its highs and lows. Credit it to Jawo and the Purefoods trio that started it all. Credit it to the current players for carrying on the historic enmity.
Flip it over and over, Ginebra versus San Mig Coffee will always be Manila Clasico. It will always be one of the highlights of Philippine sports. And this next week or two, as these two teams battle for a Finals appearance, brace yourself. This is going to be war.
Mark Caguioa (10.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.0 apg) vs James Yap (12.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.5 apg)
If you think about it, the match-up at every position could be the key in this series. Just as much as the one I chose, it could also very well be Pingris-Aguilar, Slaughter-Sangalang, or Tenorio-Barroca. However, I went with Mark Caguioa and James Yap because they remain to be the embodiment of their respective teams.
It doesn’t matter that they haven’t been playing superstar basketball this conference (their averages show it). You know that they still are the most important player on each of their teams.
With more ammo on the offensive end, the scoring load of Ginebra no longer falls heavily on Caguioa. What they’ll need from him is the maturity, leadership and motivation that only a seasoned veteran can provide. The Barangay is has a good mix of vets and youngins. Caguioa will have to be the bridge that connects the team together and makes sure that they are always working towards their goal of a chip.
As for the Mixers, they would’ve been at a much higher seed if Yap had shot the ball better. But they’ve shown that they can win despite that trouble. San Mig Coffee is a well-rounded team. It is one that values quality over quantity. They do not have as many weapons as the powerhouses in the league but they have the exact tools they needed to get where they here. Unfortunately, this next challenge is tougher than all that came before. They’re gonna need their best player, James Yap, to find a way to be effective and lead his team to the promised land.
I felt like Japeth Aguilar had to be here somewhere, but I don’t think we can call him an X-factor. The spotlight will be on him throughout this series. And while they focus on Japeth, Greg will in the background, towering above everyone.
Truth be told, there’s not a lot that Slaughter can do on the court. But the few things that he knows, he does extremely well. Like grab the offensive rebound and put the ball back in the hoop. Like block or at least bother every one of your opponents’ shot attempts in the paint.
I used to think the Ginebra giant was ‘just a tall dude who knew how to play ball’. Soon enough, I realized that he’s a 7-footer who really had game. When you’re that tall, and you play with some in a team with some of the best talents in the league, that’s all you need to be – a towering fella.
San Mig Coffee’s tallest player is Yancy De Ocampo; and he’s a good three inches shorter than the Ginebra rookie. If the Mixers fail to keep Slaughter out of the paint, he will be a tall order for them, literally and figuartively.
Brgy. Ginebra in 7.
This series will most likely go down the wire. I won’t be surprised if the finale is a triple-overtime game 7.
Ginebra has been a brute forced this conference. They are easily the favorites against any team they face. However, San Mig Coffee thrives in these situations. It was also the case with Petron when they played the Mixers in the Finals of last conference. The Boosters went undefeated in the eliminations; only to have the Mixers upset them in the Finals.
It’s the semifinals and, as the players would say, the elims and the quarters don’t matter anymore. It will be a long and hard fought series but I’ll have to give it to Ginebra. I just think that their size and overflowing offensive ammo will be too much for San Mig Coffee to handle. Especially if James Yap still fails to find the switch on his shooting.
Photos by Paolo Papa and Pranz Kaeno Billiones of Sports5.ph
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