View From the Enemy: Petron Blaze Boosters
If you were a betting man, there’s probably no way that you would bet against the Petron Blaze Boosters this conference. The Blaze Boosters are carrying with them a nine game winning streak coming into this semi-final and among the four teams left in contention, Coach Gee ‘s squad looking dominant on the offensive end of the spectrum.
Their strength on offense comes on a system that leverages on the roster’s depth, flexibility and the versatility of its players. This has led to a balanced scoring output from Petron’s core players, which have also showed a penchant for sharing the basketball.
Now, I wouldn’t blame you if the team you read about above reminded you of Rain or Shine. In fact, the Elasto Painters did consistently rank as the PBA’s offensive juggernauts; however, this conference has seen them regress in that aspect mainly due to the team’s inability to make their shots. Their offense continues to allow the players to share the ball and get open shots, they’re just missing their shots right now, headlined surprisingly (or not), by Gilas players Chan and Norwood
No, we’re not saying that Rain or Shine will upset Petron if Norwood and Chan shoot better from the field. Yes, it will help, but more things have to go the Elasto Painter’s way if they want to keep their dreams of defending the championship alive.
Keys to the Series
Don’t Get Overwhelmed
Petron’s crunch time line-up against Ginebra looked like this: Cabagnot on Urbiztondo, Millsap on Tenorio, Lassiter on Helterbrand, Santos on Ellis and Kramer/Fajardo on Lowhorn. This line-up completely hounded and decimated Ginebra, with every Barangay miscue turning into an easy scoring opportunity for the Blaze Boosters.
It’s good to note here that while Petron does have the potential to be a killer defensive team, they still allow their opponents to shoot 42.5% from the field as compared to Rain or Shine’s 41.2% and, as evidenced in the Ginebra comeback last weekend, this team is certainly not immune to complacency and meltdowns.
Rain or Shine must not let Petron overwhelm them on the defensive end. Coach Yeng must implore his wards to stay focused and just execute their offensive game plan regardless of what defensive unit Petron chooses to use and what the circumstances might be. With a Rain or Shine offense that has struggled this entire conference, they cannot afford to get sloppy or turn the ball over too much.
Both Petron and Rain or Shine are teams that love to run, with both rosters having guys that can speed down the court in seconds or sneak a leak out here and there off a defensive stop. For this series to not be a cake-walk for Petron, Rain or Shine needs to control both sides of the transition game. They should look to run as much as possible, while at the same time, making sure that they get back quickly on defense and nullify any fastbreak incursions by Petron.
Specific attention must be given to Awrind Santos and Elijah Millsap, who both make a killing out of quietly slipping away from their defender’s sights and into the open floor after a Petron defensive rebound. A quick touchdown pass by Fajardo or Kramer leads to one of the easiest two points for Petron in the game.
It won’t be easy, but controlling the transition game may just be the backbone of a Rain or Shine upset.
With Norwood and Chan struggling from the field, the other local players need to step-up to complement Arizona Reid in the scoring department. Rain or Shine definitely has the personnel to make this happen, as Paul Lee, Chris Tiu, Jervy Cruz and others are more than capable of providing a scoring punch for Coach Yeng.
However, the real story here would be consistency, as most of the Elasto Painter locals have had their share of good scoring games. It’s just putting these together over a string of games that’s missing right now.
Key Match-up: Beau Belga vs. June Mar Fajardo
Many point to Petron’s big local center June Mar Fajardo as their biggest asset this conference. Fajardo’s ability to man the paint for Petron opens up the floor on offense and he gives them a solid anchor on defense as well. Coach Gee often likes to establish Fajardo down low early and often, running a bulk of their 1st quarter offense through the Cebuano big man.
Big Beau has to effectively contain Fajardo and not make Rain or Shine send another defender to stop him. Having to leave a Petron player unguarded will be detrimental to a Rain or Shine defense that’s already carrying a big burden from the get-go. Belga has to submit his best defensive performance in this series and we’ll see if his bulk and experience will be enough to contain the Kraken.
X-Factor: Jeff Chan
So far in the nine games that Jeff Chan has played in this conference, he has only converted on seven out of 43 shots from beyond the arc. That atrocious 16.3% clip from rainbow territory has hurt Rain or Shine repeatedly this conference, enabling defenses to pack the paint and make life harder for their import Arizona Reid.
Can Chan regain his touch in time to give the Elasto Painter offense a much needed shot in the arm? Lord knows that his long bombs could spell the difference between a Petron sweep and a elimination game five.
Despite being a Rain or Shine fan, I still believe that this is Petron’s conference to lose. Rain or Shine will put up a valiant fight, but Petron should be able to take care of business in four games with a 3-1 slate.