The second semifinals series is another contest between a surprise contender at the top versus a lower-seeded champion team. The Phoenix Pulse Fuelmasters will look to prove themselves against the four-time Philippine Cup champs, the San Miguel Beermen. Before we get to that, let’s take a look to their starkly different roads to the semis.
Anyone saying they predicted Phoenix to the eliminations at the top of the standings is definitely lying. They looked pretty unstoppable as they tallied 4 straight victories to start the conference before finally losing to ROS. They went on another 3-game winning streak before ending with a 9-2 record and the first seed. They then easily dispatched a hobbled Alaska squad to earn the franchise’s first-ever semis slot.
The trade for Calvin Abueva late last season continues to pay dividends while Matthew Wright has put up outstanding numbers while Jason Perkins tallied more than a few clutch games under his belt. The addition of Alex Mallari only added to their already versatile crop of lengthy, physical and switchy wings and forwards.
As for the Beermen, it wasn’t smooth sailing. Prior to the season, there was cautious optimism with the addition of Terrence Romeo and having both Christian Standhardinger and June Mar Fajardo healthy at the same time. That didn’t pan out immediately as a shock loss to Columbian and beatdowns from TNT and ROS left them in a 2-3 hole. It was all doom and gloom until they eventually turned it around by winning five of their last six games to end with a 7-4 record.
Ironically enough, they faced the TNT KaTropa in the quarterfinals and it was definitely a dogfight. They managed to squeak one in Game 1 but lost steam in Game 2. After being severely outplayed and having to play catch in the first two, they finally figured TNT out and routed them in the third game to clinch a semis slot. The scary thing about the Beermen is that they definitely haven’t peaked yet.
ELIMINATIONS MATCHUP: PHX def. SMB 96-93
It was just a month ago that these two teams matched up when the elimination round was starting to close. The Fuelmasters had a much more energetic start to go up big but SMB eventually caught up in the second quarter. The second half proved to be a closer affair with the Beermen playing catch up for much of it.
Despite Abueva struggling with foul trouble, Phoenix managed to come away with the W thanks to clutch shots from both Wright and Perkins. As expected, they beat up SMB on the boards while the Beermen couldn’t hit a shot or defend well in the endgame.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR
This series will probably come down to Phoenix’s hustle and grit versus SMB’s execution and experience.
The Fuelmasters’ strengths play very well to the Beermen’s weaknesses. Much like their elimination matchup, expect them to take advantage of SMB’s poor defensive rebounding to generate second-chance opportunities. With the Beermen having struggled to contain big rebounding wings all conference long, expect the Fuelmasters to pounce on that as they a drove of physical guys to send at them. Even a guy like Jaypee Mendoza can burn them if not boxed out.
As for SMB, Fajardo and Standhardinger will be their biggest advantages, literally and figuratively. In Game 3 of the quarters, it looked like the coaches finally figured out how to best use them together and it looked mighty dangerous. If they can continue to do the same against Phoenix? Good luck. The Fuelmasters have a decent crop of tough bigs but that might not matter against these twin towers.
Despite being one of the best shooting teams in the conference, SMB has had a very tough time in the playoffs so far hitting just 20 of their 95 attempts from deep. That’s a lousy 21%. That can both be good and bad for Phoenix. On one hand, they can pack it in the paint and dare the Beermen’s shooters to punish them. On the other, SMB is due for a hot shooting series of games. That’s going to be tough to stop.
The physicality and “mind games” will be factors to consider and watch out for. Abueva and Arwind Santos, in particular, look to be an explosive matchup. Abueva is probably chomping at the chance to finally avenge all those heartbreaking playoff losses when he was still with the Aces. While Santos has always had the upper hand and is coming off a taunting-filled series against TNT’s bench so he’s primed and ready.