Going gets tougher

A team on its dream first ever stint in a playoff series going up against a seasoned opponent and the sister teams fated once again to meet each other and renew their storied rivalry.

That best describes the protagonists featured in a pair of best-of-3 quarterfinal series of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup today at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Blackwater is on its highest finish ever in the elimination after finishing third overall with a 7-4 card capped by an ego-boosting 112-104 spanking of Alaska in the penultimate round last Sunday.

The Elite of owner Dioceldo Sy finished deadlast in the Philippine Cup but made a huge turnaround this conference and are now playing for the first time in the best-of-3 series.

Their opponent is Rain or Shine which finished number six. The two teams start their brief series at 4:30 p.m. today, with the winner moving a win away from the semifinals.

The Elite defeated the Elasto Painters in the elimination round last June 2 at the Ynares Center, 98-92, although it’s not a guarantee of a repeat win.

"Congratulations to our owners, Dioceldo Sy and Silliman Sy," said Elite coach Aris Dimaunahan. "We all know we finished last in the Philippine Cup pero hindi sila nawalan ng tiwala sa amin.”

“We thank them for that. Also, the players for really sticking with each other, embracing the game plan, doing the game plan to the letter,” added Dimaunahan.

Barangay Ginebra and Magnolia collide in the second game at 6:45 p.m. in another edition of the Manila Classico now highlighting the 8-team quarterfinal phase of the mid-season conference.

“It’s the playoffs and Manila Classico so it’s always times 2 in terms of motivation,” said Gin Kings coach Tim Cone, recalling the last two conferences they’ve defeated the Hotshots in the elimination only to fall short against them (Hotshots) in the playoffs.

“We need to change that narrative this time around. They always find a way to play big in the playoffs so, as usual, we’ll need to lift our game. It’s going to be a great battle,” added the league’s winningest coach.

The Hotshots were the finalists in the last Philippine Cup but lost to San Miguel Beer in seven games. Nonetheless, that gave them valuable championship experience which could probably be a big factor in the series.

“We just try to prepare hard and be positive,” said Magnolia coach Chito Victolero, whose Hotshots are coming into the series still reeling from four straight losses in the elimination.

“We have a four-game losing streak. Medyo mabigat. Ang maganda dito, may chance kami,” he stressed. “It is equal ‘yung opportunity. Best-of-three kesa sa (number) seven or eight ka na twice-to-beat disadvantage.”

“Mas maganda chance namin although it’s the defending champions. Gusto ko pa rin ‘yung chance kung ano man ‘yung meron ngayon,” said Victolero.

One of Victolero’s concerns is his import in Rakeem Christmas who, he said, has yet to hit his peak form.

“Siyempre, malaki rin ‘yung adjustment niya. May jetlag. Kailangan niya mag-acclimatize, ‘yung system. Siguro ‘yung next two days, maganda para sa aming lahat ‘yung preparation namin, kung anong gagamitin naming depensa, and then mas lalo niyang makikilala ‘yung mga kalaban niya,” said Victolero.