Here we are, at the finals of what many believe to be, is the most prestegious basketball crown in the Philippines, the PBA Philippine Cup.
Looking to hoist the trophy at the end of it all are Talk N Text and Rain or Shine, arguably the two best defensive minded system teams in the PBA. Both teams rely more on their respective systems than “superstar” players. It can be said that both teams generally play the same way (grind it out defense, effort, execution), with Rain or Shine having an advantage in youth and momentum, while Talk N Text brings in an overflowing amount of veteran and championship experience to the table.
Let’s look at the individual match-ups (using the line-ups both teams most frequently used in the semis) and determine who really has the edge in what looks to be a finals series for the books.
Point Guard: Gabe Norwood vs. Jimmy Alapag
Wow. What a match-up we have right off the bat. Jimmy Alapag will always be TNT’s emotional leader and while his play has suffered as compared to previous years, the Mighty Mouse still manages to bring out his best performances when it matters the most. With his range stretching far beyond the three point line, Gabe Norwood will definitely have his handfull here defensively. However, if he is able to limit Jimmy throughout the series, then TNT might never get it going.
Shooting Guard: Paul Lee vs. Larry Fonacier
Paul Lee only saw action for his team at the start of the playoffs and in retrospect, his time off due to injury might be one of the best things that happened to the team this season. When he returned, Coach Yeng instantly had a killer offensive threat to deploy at anytime he wishes. Coming into the finals, the Angas ng Tondo has shown his mid-season form already, with no more lingering effects of the dislocated shoulder. Larry Fonacier, has been playing heavy minutes and yet hasn’t been producing his normal numbers, especially from the three, where he’s known to be a knock down shooter. Unless Fonacier can rediscover his touch, Coach Black should consider starting Castro or Reyes in this spot to help contain Lee.
Advantage: Rain or Shine
Small Forward: Ryan Arana vs. Jared Dillinger
The chances of us actually seeing this match-up for long stretches are slim. While Arana is a tough defender, he had only minor success trying to defend James Yap in the semis, what more going up against the faster, stronger and bulkier Jared Dillinger? Let’s see how Coach Yeng adjusts here.
Advantage: Talk N Text
Power Forward: Jervy Cruz vs. Ranidel De Ocampo
It’s the mobility and youth of most improved player candidate Jervy Cruz against the heft and experience of De Ocampo. With the Elasto Painter’s tenacity and focus on grabbing rebounds, De Ocampo must do his best and lock down the shaded area. Plus, I think he has some added motivation to play well against Rain or Shine, because his brother Yancy got buried in Tim Cone’s bench during the semis.
Center: Quinahan vs. Williams
Whether it’s Quinahan or his extra-rice partner Belga matched up against Machine Gun Kelly, they will surely have their hands full trying to stop the high flying, explosive big man. Sure, the extra-rice tandem was able to handle Pingris during the semis and they had no trouble limiting rookie of the year candidate Cliff Hodge in the eliminations, but Pingris can’t really jump out of the building anymore and Hodge got affected by the physicality of Quinahan/Belga’s game. Kelly Williams however, when he chooses to, can simply dominate. I honestly belive that like Gabe Norwood, Kelly’s just.. too nice of a guy. He just doesn’t seem to have that fire in him to just want to dunk on people and detonate all over the place. Either way, whoever Rain or Shine starts at center has to load up on some more extra-rice, because he’s going to be in for some long nights.
Advantage: Talk N Text
Bench: Chan, Belga, Tiu, Tang, Rodrigues, Ibanes & Matias vs. Castro, Carey, Peek, Reyes, Raymundo & Aban
Both teams use a deep bench, with ROS using a 9 man rotation and TNT rotating 8.
I think TNT really has the advantage here. They’ve got the offensive firepower from Castro and Reyes, while Peek and Carey can easily hold down the fort defensively. The ROS bench, while they play their hearts out, are streaky scorers at best (except for Chan), with their advantages mostly seen in the defensive end of the court.
Advantage: Talk N Text
On paper, it seems that Talk N Text has the advantage over Rain or Shine in this series and if they come out strong and take the first 2 out of 3 games, then I think this series will end with the Tropang Texters adding yet another championship banner in 5 or 6 games. But, an unexpected offensive explosion by someone like Norwood or Jervy Cruz in critical games could push this series to a deciding game 7. If that happens, I’ll be putting my money on the Elasto Painters giving Coach Yeng the only trophy missing in his shiny collection.
Game 1’s on Wednesday, here’s to a series for the books!