After a long wait, the PBA semifinals are finally here. Both series look to be very interesting with the top two seeds going up against champion teams that didn’t have the best of starts. It’s pretty ironic then that Phoenix and ROS look to be underdogs coming into it. But for now, let’s take a look at the 2 vs. 6 matchup. 

THE JOURNEY

The path these two teams took couldn’t be any more different.

After being repeatedly trashed for mishandling the talent on his team since Yeng Guiao’s departure., it looks like Caloy Garcia finally found the right mix to have ROS running smoothly. It’s quite fitting then that they started their campaign with a big win over NLEX, the team of their former mentor. They only improved from there including wins over SMB and Magnolia among others. Of course, there were still a few hiccups along the way with back-to-back losses to cellar-dwellers Columbian and Blackwater. Those almost cost them a twice-to-beat advantage if not for NorthPort’s win against Barangay Ginebra. They sent their regards by not only gifting them free pancit during practice but also trouncing them in their quarterfinals matchup.

As for Magnolia, it was an uphill battle from the start. Having a later start than everyone else was probably a huge reason for their 0-3 start. They just looked like a mess and nothing like the 2018 Governor’s Cup champions. But like any good champion team, they persevered and finally shook off the cobwebs and went on a 6-2 tear to clinch the sixth spot. Being no strangers to being the lower seeds, they had an early GovCup semis rematch with Barangay Ginebra. Once again, they found themselves in a hole by losing the first game in a best-of-three. But they battled back with two huge blowout wins to eliminate Ginebra for the second straight conference.

ELIMINATION MATCHUP: ROS def. MAG 75-74

We have to go all the way back to February 13 for their first and only matchup so far. As mentioned earlier, the Hotshots were looking to avoid falling into a 0-3 hole while the Elastopainters looked to carry their momentum and win a fourth straight game.

ROS poured it on in the second quarter to build a double-digit lead thanks in part to Norbert Torres’ stellar play. Magnolia was quick to mount a comeback in the third however and cut it down to a single possession. The fourth quarter proceeded to be a nip-and-tuck affair with the Hotshots even leading by four at one point. But it came down the final seconds. Paul Lee hit a tough jumper to push Magnolia ahead by 2 points with just 5 seconds left but James Yap responded with an and-1 to put the game away and come out victorious. 

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR

These two teams can actually look pretty similar roster-wise. For one, they both like to go 10-12 deep and that will likely be a crucial factor in this series. We can expect a lot of unsung heroes and magic bunots. Whoever can eke out the most from the bench will have the biggest advantage.

For the Elastopainters, they’ve had a couple of players have their moments, including guys like Rey Nambatac, Norbert Torres and even Kris Rosales who looked like he was out of the league before joining the team. Javee Mocon is probably the one to look out for the most though. There were questions on whether he could make the adjustment from tweener to wing and it’s been a flawless transition so far. He’ll look to make a big impact in the first PBA series of his career.

As for Magnolia, Robert Herndon and Rodney Brondial come to mind. After a so-so rookie season, Herndon is looking like a legitimate shooting threat while Brondial is proving to be more than an energy big with his ability to hit threes being more consistent.

Much like their eliminations encounter, we can probably expect a shootout from Paul Lee and James Yap. It’s always a fun matchup between these two (though they don’t usually guard each other) and the story of them being traded for each other is always there. After winning last conference’s BPC award, Lee has been his usual self and remains the most dangerous Hotshot despite his 29% mark from deep. Yap on the other hand has experienced a bit of a resurgence after looking a bit washed the season prior. This is the closest he’s looked to the old James Yap and probably his most dangerous, especially with that 40% clip from three.

With the reputations of both these teams, I think refereeing will definitely play a huge factor in this one. The way they’ve called the playoffs so far has allowed for A LOT of contact. That has led to a ton of physicality and heated encounters. Whether that’s really a good thing is for another article entirely. But if they continue to call it loose, that bodes well for both of these teams, especially Magnolia since their defense is borderline fouling at times. ROS won’t be afraid to mix it up however so this reason alone is enough for us to expect a lot of fireworks. It’s a seven-game series after all.