THE semifinals of the coronavirus-interrupted 2020 PBA Philippine Cup at the Angeles University Foundation are finally here.
Except for a brief three-day stoppage due to some health concerns, the unprecedented PBA restart in the NBA-inspired bubble in Pampanga last Oct. 11 looks on the way to a successful conclusion.
With its success, PBA Commissioner Willie Marcial must be smiling a lot these days.
Eight of the 12 teams have since packed their bags and returned home to ther families.
As to the other remaining four teams, the best-of-five semifinal battles will kick off Wednesday.
No. 1 Barangay Ginebra (9-3) vs. No. 5 Meralco (9-4)
Ginebra has the best record in the bubble at 9-3 and Stanley Pringle, Japeth Aguilar, Scottie Thompson, Aljon Mariano, Prince Caperal, LA Tenorio and Jeff Chan are playing well enough to make the whole barangay happy.
And as long as everyone is healthy, Ginebra coach Tim Cone should like his team’s chances in the semis against Meralco, a team which they have beaten three times in their last four PBA Governor’s Cup finals.
Pringle, the do-it-all superstar of Ginebra, is very clearly the man of the hour.
The 33-year-old Filipino-American shooting guard from San Diego, California is averaging a team-high 18.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists in all 11 games in the elimination.
He also finished with 10 points, five assists and two rebounds in Ginebra’s series-clinching 81-73 win over Rain or Shine in the No. 1 vs. No. 8 quarterfinals.
“I’ve said it before, he’s our closer,” said Cone when asked about Pringle.
“We put the ball in his hands down the stretch and we expect him to close it for us. We’re not forcing it in every possession because it gets too exhausting and the defense gets too predictable. But down the streth we’re gonna figure out a way to try and get him free and allow him to do his thing.”
Pringle, however, is not the only one.
Cone can expect big numbers from Aguilar (14.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Thompson (11.4 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 6.3 apg), Mariano (9.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg), Caperal (9.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg), Tenorio (6.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and Chan (6.6 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.4 apg).
Meralco did a herculean job in the elimination round to finish at 7-4.
Led by Chris Newsome, Rey Hugnatan, Allein Maliksi, Basser Amer, Cliff Hodge, Raymond Almazan and Aaron Black, the Bolts swept their last four games in the elimination round to clinch fifth seed.
In the quarterfinals, Meralco dethroned five-time champion San Miguel Beer, 78-71 and 90-68, to book a semiifinal ticket in the import-less conference for the firdt time in franchise history.
Credit, of course, should go to Coach Norman Black, who succeeded in motivating his players and getting them sublimate their own welfare for the good of the cause.
“We knew what we wanted to do defensively (against San Miguel). It worked very, very well because the players executed the gameplan. So, all hats off to them because worked so hard,” said Black.
“But the job is not finished. It’s only the semifinals. Now I have to regroup them and put our sights on the finals.”
Can they do it against Ginebra?
Black will now pin his hopes on Newsome (14.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 4.3 apg), Hugnatan (12.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg), Maliksi ( 10.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg), Amer ( 9.8 ppg, 3.0 apg), Hodge (8.8 ppg,5.4 rpg), Almazan (8.6 ppg, 6.9 rpg) and Black (7.1 ppg,4.0 rpg).
Although the Ginebra-Meralco best-of-five semifinal series could be a lot different when they played each other during the PBA Governor’s Cup where imports dominated the games, the coming matchup would be electric.
Nobody knows who among the superstar-players of both teams can dominate.
But a playoff series with Cone and Black, two of the league’s winngest coaches with a combined 33 PBA championships between them, sitting on the opposite ends of the court is always a joy to watch.
Previous game result: Ginebra defeated Meralco, 105-91, atthe AUF Sports Center last Oct. 18.
Prediction: Ginebra in four.
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