It’s funny how the PBA is able to create the best possible stories at the best possible time.
Just when everyone was ready to write-off San Mig Coffee’s title chances this conference, they pulled off an amazing comeback vs. Meralco in their quarterfinals series to book a semis slot against none other than the Alaska Aces.
The Aces have had a stellar performance in this conference so far, holding on to the number one spot all throughout. They only lost three games, with two of those coming against SMC. Alaska has yet to beat the San Mig Coffee franchise since Tim Cone joined the Mixer’s bench; with Cone now bringing an eight game winning streak against the Aces into this series. Interestingly enough, this is their first time to meet in the playoffs since Coach Luigi took over, so this is building up to be one of the more dramatic match-ups in recent history.
James Yap vs. Cyrus Baguio
James Yap has been having quite a rocky conference, but during SMC’s clinching game against Meralco, he was able to set his physical and emotional problems aside for at least one game. The Mixers need him to be the a major offensive contributor in the semis as these crucial games are where he has built his “Big Game” moniker from. For Alaska, Cyrus Baguio has been their silent soldier all conference long, carrying the local offensive punch while providing the leadership and poise that helped put Alaska where they are now. We can surely expect a shoot-out from these two, but it’s what they bring to their teams leadership-wise that could swing this series either way. ADVANTAGE: EVEN
Calvin Abueva vs. Marc Pingris
This is one exciting match-up to watch out for! The Beast and Sakuragi are both tops in the league when it comes to hustle play, heart and toughness with both players are responsible for doing the “dirty” work for their respective teams. Abueva does have an advantage when it comes to his unpredictability and general Abueva-ness on both ends of the floor, but Pingris has the veteran experience and smarts to counter the rookie’s boldness. Looking at their efficiency in helping their team in this conference, it shows a slight advantage for Marc, who garnered a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 16.07, while Abueva is at 14.34 clip (both above the league average). However, expect both players to perform even better that what they’ve shown so far. ADVANTAGE: EVEN
Tim Cone vs. Luigi Trillo
This conference has seen Coach Trillo prove to his critics that he is one of the best coaches in the PBA, while Cone has always been one of the staples when people talk about the best local coaches of the generation. The teacher vs. the student is a storyline that has been used countless times by the PBA and yet everyone still loves it. Will the student finally beat his former mentor? We think that he will finally succeed in winning a game, but a series? That’s a question that’s still up in the air since the history books have shown a preference for Tim Cone coached teams. ADVANTAGE: SAN MIG COFFEE
Keys to the series:
Alaska Aces (Carla)
1. Get rid of the “we are going up against our former coach” mentality – The Aces have yet to beat the Coffee Mixers since their former coach Tim Cone took over that team. I am convinced that the main key to an Alaska win is that they need to believe that they can actually do it. They have lost eight straight games to SMC but they have been getting closer and closer each time. They surely have the personnel to do it and the Aces just need to have confidence in what they have in order to provide the extra push they need to get over this very, very big hump in the road.
2. Shut down Bowles – Robert Dozier has been a great fit for Alaska and has been simply silently dominant throughout the conference. He never losses his composure on the court and has easily matched up with other imports quite well. However, we have to take into consideration that we have yet to see him play in a big game. Alaska has held on to the top spot for the whole conference so there was never any real pressure for him to perform. Denzel Bowles on the other hand has obviously been tried and tested in crucial situations (he’s really already part of this generation’s PBA import folklore). With Bowles being the only consistent spot in the SMC offense, the Alaska defense will be well suited to design their defensive plan on stopping him.
3. All about execution – These two teams both utilize the triangle offense so it all boils down to execution. I believe that Alaska has a deeper lineup than SMC, so they just have to play steady and not let SMC get away with sustained runs at any point of the game. While the PG is often an overlooked aspect of the triangle, expect to see sparks here as Casio and Jazul now have a tougher challenge ahead of them as the SMC point guard rotation now features an Alex Mallari playing out of his mind.
San Mig Coffee Mixers (Alvin)
1. James Freaking Yap – For all his struggles this conference, it’s clear that this San Mig Coffee team still needs Yap’s offensive contributions. They were able to cushion some of his play with the emergence of Mallari and big games by Pingris. But, as they go deeper in the playoffs and face better defensive teams like Alaska.. they will need a prolific scorer, which they have that in James Yap… if only his back holds up.
2. Stop the Beast – Calvin Abueva did well in his first semi-finals appearance against eventual champions Talk ‘N Text last conference, but he did make some expected rookie mistakes as well. It’s clear that he has learned a lot from those mistakes this conference and in his second semi-finals appearance, he will be raring to prove that he can be a Beast regardless of who he’s playing and what the circumstances are. The task of stopping him falls on Marc Pingris and as mentioned earlier, these two will surely provide some fireworks in this series. Aside from Sakuragi though, stopping a player as diverse as Abueva will require a complete team defensive effort. Look for other SMC players like Gaco, Reavis and Devance to pick-up some of the slack.
3. Team Effort– Let’s face it, it’s possible for James Yap to not have another good game in these playoffs. Back injuries are as tricky as hell and there’s really no telling how James will feel when he wakes up everyday. For San Mig Coffee, it would be good if they didn’t expect anything from James at all and just go out there and play the best basketball they can. With Simon, Mallari, Barroca and Devance in the fold, the Mixers definitely have the potential firepower to at least be competitive without James Yap.
Alvin: As mentioned earlier, this is a short series. Hopefully, we can see a full best of seven series between these two teams in the future but for now, we’ll have to settle for a best of five. San Mig Coffee needs to gain control of this series from the very start, so it goes without saying that a game one win is crucial. I think that Alaska will finally beat Tim Cone in one or two games, but it won’t be enough to win the series. San Mig Coffee in five.
Carla: Originally, I was hoping for Meralco to defeat SMC so that Alaska would have a better shot at the finals. But, after writing my keys to the series, I changed my mind. I actually think that the Aces are ready to win against the team that they just can’t seem to beat. After all, they’ve been so close to winning in the past few games and I’m sure they are hungry for a win. I’m putting my faith in my team. Alaska WILL make it to the finals, just can’t say how many games it’ll take. :)