MANILA, Philippines - Two teams, whose hard-working, talented crews have provided serious challenges to the powerhouse teams of the league, slug it out at the start of the PBA Philippine Cup Final Four tonight with Rain or Shine and Alaska bracing for another fierce battle that has marked their previous semis showdown.
The Elasto Painters, chasing their third straight Philippine Cup championship appearance, and the Aces, seeking their first all-Filipino finals in five years, have proven they could hold their own against the mighty ballclubs from the San Miguel and MVP groups as they dispute the first finals berth in a best-of-seven semis tipped to go down-to-the-wire.
Game One is set at 7 p.m. at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay.
The other Final Four pairing pits the flagship teams of the SMC and the MVP blocs – San Miguel Beer and Talk n Text – which starts also at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the same venue.
The Elasto Painters and the Aces figure in a return bout with practically the same lineups that clashed in an epic best-of-five semis series last June.
Rain or Shine sets out with exactly the same roster as rookie Jericho Cruz got injured in practice. Alaska, meanwhile, has got one significant change in Chris Banchero.
The E-Painters, the playoffs second seeds, are fresh from a 10-day respite while the Aces ride the momentum on their conquests of the NLEX Road Warriors and the Meralco Bolts in the quarterfinals.
Odds are about even, and the protagonists are both confident they’re ready for battle.
“We have a pretty good idea on how to play Alaska which has had great success with its approach to the game,” said Rain or Shine coach Yeng Guiao.
The Aces are as optimistic they know how to deal with the scrappy Elasto Painters and their relentless game.
“We’ll toughen up on defense, and whoever five are on the floor will fight to the end,” said Alaska energy guy Calvin Abueva.
To many, the result of their previous Final Four matchup wasn’t conclusive with Rain or Shine barely stealing the deciding match on a freak slip by Jvee Casio on a breakaway layup.
This rematch could settle the issue.
“Handang-handa na kami (We’re ready),” said Guiao, unafraid of losing any edge on a long break after their outright semifinal entry.
“In fact we feel it’s given us a much-needed rest to refresh us for the grueling series ahead. It’s going to be an exciting series which can go seven games,” Guiao pointed out.
Both teams have a deep bench ready for a long, tough grind. Guiao has got at his disposal Paul Lee, Jeff Chan, Beau Belga, Raymond Almazan, JR Quinahan, Jervy Cruz, Jonathan Uyloan, Gabe Norwood, TY Tang, Jeric Teng, Jireh Ibañes, Chris Tiu and Ryan Araña while Alaska has a solid core group including Abueva, Casio, Banchero, Vic Manuel, Dondon Hontiveros, Cyrus Baguio, Eric Menk, Sonny Thoss, RJ Jazul and Tony dela Cruz.
Alaska coach Alex Compton foresees the same classic matches they churned out in their last semis encounter.
They figured in five well-fought matches then, with the Elasto Painters escaping with a 97-94 triumph in the deciding Game Five. Two other games could have gone either way, decided by a field-goal basket in the end.
In their elimination-round meeting this conference, Rain or Shine also gained big breaks at the finish and squeezed out a 98-95 victory.
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