Best-of-seven duels begin
MANILA, Philippines - Christmas comes a week early to diehard PBA fans as the best of the league that survived gut-wrenching eliminations are expected to clash in a pair of explosive showdowns in the Philippine Cup semifinals at the Smart Araneta Coliseum today.
On one side, Talk n Text pursues its drive for a third straight Philippine Cup crown against an Alaska Milk squad aching to gain winning identity with its young, promising roster at 5:15 p.m.
On the other is a playoff rematch between Commissioner's Cup champion San Mig Coffee and Governors Cup ruler Rain or Shine in the 7:30 p.m. main game.
RoS is out to prove its conquest of B-Meg (now San Mig Coffee) in the last conference was for real while the latter is out for vengeance, redemption and respect, being a champion team itself that last hoisted a crown at the end of the last Commissioner's Cup.
This Final Four couldn't get any better than this with each protagonist bracing for a long, tough grind in a pair of best-of-seven affairs.
With its powerhouse cast of tried and tested players, Talk n Text, however, won’t be denied the tag as the favorite versus Alaska.
"I am pretty humble but am also confident we can match up with any team," said Talk n Text coach Norman Black after booking the first slot in the semis last Wednesday.
The league's most dominant team in the last two years, the Tropang Texters kept their winning ways, topping the elimination round with a 12-2 win-loss mark. Alaska came in fifth at 8-6.
Alaska coach Luigi Trillo admits they’re facing an uphill battle that they must play their A game always to have a chance at pulling the rug from under the Texters.
"Talk n Text is a solid, character team. They're well coached. If there is one team that is consistently good and works hard, it’s Talk n Text," said Trillo.
"We can’t bring our B game and expect an upset. They really attack the mismatch and try to tire out key guys from the opposing team by posting them up and make them go through multiple screens," Trillo added.
Meanwhile, four months after their title clash last conference, Rain or Shine and San Mig Coffee meet in another playoff showdown with all the trimmings of a classic duel.
"I expect a long series, and it's going to be physical and emotional for both teams," said Rain or Shine coach Yeng Guiao.
"It should be a great series," said San Mig Coffee coach Tim Cone.
Rain or Shine narrowly escaped with an 80-79 win in their first meeting in the elims last Oct. 24 then San Mig evened things up with another squeaker, 93-92, on Dec. 2.
Making their semis duel showdown more exciting is both teams playing with a complete, healthy lineup. They have great individual matchups both on backcourt and frontcourt.
"As opposed to our championship series last conference, we feel we match up better this time around," said Cone.
"Paul Lee's and Chris Tiu's additions have certainly made RoS a deeper, tougher team, but having Joe (Devance), JC (Intal) and Wes (Gonzales) available for us this time around helps even things out," Cone added.
It's the combo of James Yap, PJ Simon and Mark Barroca versus Lee, Tiu, Ryan Arana, Jeff Chan and Gabe Norwood at the backcourt and the gang of De Vance, Marc Pingris, Rafi Reavis and Yancy de Ocampo against Beau Belga, JR Quinahan, Jervy Cruz, Larry Rodriguez and Ronnie Matias at the frontcourt.
Yap, the biggest ace on Cone's sleeves, is up for a tough grind with RoS defensive stopper Jireh Ibanes set to return from an injury.
"We are happy that we're back with our full force now that Jireh is able to play," said Guiao.
"Rebounding is still our biggest problem as shown in the Ginebra series. We aim to keep the game fast to compensate for our lack of size," added Guiao.