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Talk ‘n Text, as usual, is an offensive powerhouse, raining threes on everybody (35.5 percent on 307 attempts, first and second respectively) and generally making the basketball court their playground. Their dribble-drive offense, when it’s clicking, is a sight to behold. Leading them is heir apparent to the great Jimmy Alapag – Jayson Castro, who torched Purefoods to the tune of 33 points (on 21 shots) making seven of his 11 three-point attempts.
Rain or Shine, on the other hand, is a physical, grind-it-out team that makes basketball hell a reality. They are physical, they are relentless and they are vicious when they play. They’ve lived with an underdog mentality for so long that even when they weren’t the underdogs, they still play (and act) like one. Paul Lee is the flag bearer of Rain or Shine’s underdog mentality. Despite a PER of 21 over the past three seasons, he hasn’t been recognized as a difference maker in the league. In reality, he’s a terror on the ball, slashing and creating for his team in isolation and in pick-and-rolls, and off the ball, spotting daggers and bombs that kill the opposing team’s momentum. He’s also an underrated defender – a bulldog and a fighter when he needs to be.
This Finals series promises to be a fun watch, promising a multi-layered, storyline filled match between two completely different franchises. But I think the most fun — and interesting — bit about this matchup is the mano-a-mano that’ll ensue between King and his successor.
In-Their-Prime Matchup: Jayson Castro vs Gabe Norwood
Jayson Castro is an explosive scorer whose dribble-drive game is unmatched in the PBA and ranks among the best in Asia. His three-point shooting has increased exponentially and its reached its apex this season (and this conference). He rarely takes midrange shots, instead opting to drive, shoot from deep or dish. His passing game is also an efficiency machine — only three of his 54 assists didn’t lead to a shot in the paint, from three or a trip to the line. This season, Castro is averaging 16.1 points (55.3 percent TS), two made threes, and 4.8 assists per game.
While Jayson Castro might be an explosive creator and scorer, Norwood is a stopper in every sense of the word. He’s long and he’s smart — two important things when you want to be an effective perimeter stopper. The numbers bear out that Norwood is an important and irreplaceable cog in Rain or Shine’s swarm defense — Rain or Shine is 18.4 points better on defense when Norwood is on the court – tops in the league. Opposing teams shoot worse from three (25.2 percent vs 34 percent), rebound worse (47.5 vs 50.4) and turn the ball over more (17.5 vs 14.5) when Norwood plays. You can see him bark orders when Rain or Shine plays defense, directing traffic where it needs to go. That’s rare for a perimeter player and also goes to show how unique Norwood is.
Expect Yeng Guiao to stick Gabe Norwood on Jayson Castro at some crucial point in the game, maybe even as early as the start of the game.
Heir-Apparent Matchup: Paul Lee vs Matt Ganuelas-Rosser
Castro is 28 (turning 29 this June), Norwood is 30. They are in the prime of their basketball careers and will, very soon, be deposed off their spots as the “best offensive guard” and “best defensive wing” in the PBA, respectively. Paul Lee and Matt Ganuelas-Rosser are the most suitable candidates to the take the spots.
Paul Lee, 26, fits Castro’s mold, which is basically Morey basketball — take (and make) a lot of threes, get baskets in the paint, draw a lot of fouls. In the past three seasons, Lee has averaged seven threes and five free throws per 36 minutes — numbers that almost mirrors Castro’s. He even dishes out about 4.8 assists per 36.
Although Lee’s game mirrors that of Castro’s, they don’t exactly look alike (thanks to that shiny bald head). Rosser is a spitting image of Norwood — to how he plays, how he looks and his demeanor on the court. You’d think Norwood was playing for two teams. Ganuelas-Rosser, however isn’t on Norwood’s level *yet* — TNT actually plays better defense when he’s off the court — but he has all the tools to get there. He’s long — let’s give him that. His defense looks great on paper but he’s prone to ball-watching and overhelping — two main reasons why teams have a higher eFG and a higher three-point percentage when Rosser is on the court. But when he does find the right balance, he’s a handful and his length helps disrupt passing lanes (teams turn the ball over more when he’s on the court, 19.2 vs 17.9) and allows TNT to prevent more rebounds (51.1 vs 52.3).
This will be like watching two pairs of siblings battling out — kuya vs bunso.
This is going to be a fun series to watch for a multitude of reasons. To me, what will be fun is watching these two almost identical match-ups juke it out on the basketball court. Young vs Old. Defense vs Offense.