The 2013 PBA Governors’ Cup has reached its semifinals stage but I often felt that this tournament should never have started in the first place. With the Philippines hosting this year’s FIBA-Asia tournament and placing second, the PBA adjusted its schedule to accommodate all the PBA players who were part of the Gilas-Pilipinas team that placed second. The result is a tournament that started late, was interrupted by a storm, often felt rushed and forced onto the viewing public.
Short tournament, quick eliminations
The single round robin format meant each team only played nine games, one each against the other teams in the league, with minimal time for adjustment or changing of reinforcements in an import-laden tournament. As a result, a team that lent most of its stars to the national team like Talk ‘N Text didn’t just change imports, it was also eliminated even before the quarterfinals stage despite its “deep” roster. Air 21 did not have the same excuse, just bad chemistry once more even if they managed to swing a trade to bring Asi Taulava back to the PBA late in the elimination stage.
After all the hullabaloo, joining Air 21 and TNT out of the semis were crowd darlings Barangay Ginebra San Miguel (easily disposed of by Petron Blaze), Globalport (booted out by Meralco), Barako Bull (removed by Rain or Shine), and recent Commissioner’s Cup champs Alaska (knocked out by San Mig Coffee in two games).
Rising Boosters, scrambling Elasto-Painters
The semis now see Rain or Shine battling the streaking Petron while San Mig Coffee engages in Meralco in separate best-of-five series. For the first time in what must seem like an eternity, the powerhouse Petron roster looks like they’ve put their “Petronovela” days behind them. The trading away of Jay Washington and Joseph Yeo for Doug Kramer, the demotion of Denok Miranda, the emergence of June Mar Fajardo, and the promotion of Gee Abanilla as head coach have all helped the Blaze Boosters reestablish themselves as PBA titans.
You can’t blame Coach Yeng Guiao for being frustrated. The mentor of the defending Governors’ Cup champions could barely prepare for their title defense because three of his stalwarts (Jeff Chan, Gabe Norwood, and Beau Belga) were all with the Gilas squad. Last year’s Best Import winner, Jamelle Cornley, was involved in some highly questionable situations earlier this year, forcing the Elasto-Painters management to drop him.
Even with veteran Arizona Reid in the RoS fold, it still took a while before Guiao’s team would find their form. Unfortunately for them, the team would end up the four seed versus the sizzling Blaze Boosters. If the first two games are any indication, this semis series will be short as Petron now stands one win away from eliminating Rain or Shine after notching their season-best 11th straight win. It doesn’t help that injuries have decimated RoS with Paul Lee and JR Quinahan falling by the wayside, crippling Guiao’s rotation.
Defensive struggles for Meralco and SMC
For a change, tycoon Manny V. Pangilinan’s “other” squad is in the PBA semis while perennial contender Talk ‘N Text is left wondering what went wrong. Coach Ryan Gregorio brought back the hard-working Mario West for this campaign while managing to trade for Jared Dillinger for defensive help and Mike Cortez to add stability at the point. With Mac Cardona finally returning to the Bolts’ after an injury during the Commissioner’s Cup, more consistent play from the tandem of rookie Cliff Hodge, Reynel Hugnatan, and journeyman John Wilson, Meralco has been making the strides MVP expected when he placed Gregorio in charge of his team last season.
When Alaska prevented San Mig Coffee from defending their 2012 Commissioner’s Cup win a few months ago, most saw this as the end of the James Yap-era. The emergence of Marc Pingris as a national team stalwart and the addition of Alex Mallari, Mark Barroca, and Allein Maliksi seemed to reinforce that notion, though you’d never hear Coach Tim Cone declare it. The Mixers were eventually able to repay Alaska by taking out their tormentors in two hard-fought contests as Joe Devance and returning import Marqus Blakely turned the tables on the Aces.
In this semis series with Meralco, however, Cone’s team would find that these aren’t the old Bolts anymore. Gregorio, the coach of SMC when they were still Purefoods and subsequently B-MEG, was not going to let the Mixers have their way. Two games into their best-of-five series and each team has already taken a contest, which was expected from the two best defensive teams in the tournament. Blakely’s free throw shooting, already exposed by Alaska in the quarters, was once again shown as a major weakness in the Mixers’ armor.
Now that this short tournament is nearing the homestretch, it would seem that Petron’s woes are behind them even as Rain or Shine makes do with what’s left of their lineup. On the other side, the defensive matchup between San Mig Coffee and Meralco might end up in a war of attrition, particularly from the free throw line unless Blakely makes the Bolts regret sending him to the line like Alaska did.