The PBA Philippine Cup Eliminations are over, and the Quarterfinals cast is complete. As per tournament format, the bottom two teams, Barako Bull and Global Port, are already on vacation, but eight teams remain, all with a chance of making it all the way to the Finals.
The games start on 12 December at the Smart Araneta Coliseum with a doubleheader featuring crowd favorite Barangay Ginebra San Miguel (6) and tough Rain or Shine (3), followed by surprising Meralco (4) versus reemerging Alaska (5). These two match-ups are best-of-threes. Let's view the match ups, which are both toss-ups and way too close to call.
Rain or Shine vs. Ginebra
Rain or Shine is always tough to play because of the overall physicality, and a mix of strong players both inside and out. ROS can pound it inside, but that isn't where they're at their best. The team excels when the shooters, like Jeff Chan and perhaps Chris Tiu, are hitting outside shots, and the penetrators break down their men to get in the lane. They are definitely more formidable now with the return of Paul Lee, who adds another go-to guy, a creator who can make something happen in crunch time.
Ginebra will always be never-say-die, but the team has been as inconsistent as ever this conference. They are the "box of chocolates" Forrest Gump referred to — you never know what to expect! The frontliners need to man-up in this series, and Billy Mamaril has volunteered to lead the resistance. Among the frontliners, though, Kerby Raymundo will be a key factor, since ROS does not have a formidable post defender. If he can get going, he can be the X-factor. The guard rotation (Caguioa, Helterbrand, Tenorio) will be expected to produce.
In such a short series between teams that thrive on energy, a Game 1 victory is crucial. Drawing first blood could mean moving on to the semis.
Meralco vs. Alaska
For Meralco and Alaska, there will be a high dosage of excitement simply because of the presence of the two rookies who are all over the court, leaping, diving, falling, getting physical in the paint, and going all-out. The Abueva-Hodge feature of this series guarantees countless hustle plays and floorburns. But that is not all. Both teams have clutch players (Casio, Baguio, Hontiveros for Alaska; Mercado, Hugnatan, Cardona for Meralco) that can fill it up from all over the court. For Alaska, Casio must be a leader and for Meralco, Mercado has to be successful at the drive and draw. We all know, however, that Meralco tends to lose steam late in games. Can they sustain forty-eight minutes of all-out basketball versus a team with the tireless Abueva?
Close as the Ginebra-Rain or Shine series should be, this one may be even closer. This should go three games. In a Game 3, Alaska seems to have the edge in player experience, which will benefit the team in a close game, but this series surely could go either way.
The other two matchups begin on Thursday, featuring Talk 'N Text (1) versus Air 21 (8), and San Mig Coffee (2) versus Petron (7). The first and second seeds have the twice to beat advantage over the quarterfinal tailenders.
San Mig Coffee vs. Petron Blaze
About a year ago, top seed San Mig, then still known as B-Meg, lost two straight to the bottom-ranked Powerade Tigers (now Global Port, already out of the race), after allowing the Tigers to snatch the first game, and falling hard in the second. Surely, Coach Tim Cone, as well as his veteran lineup, learned a valuable lesson from that experience and will do everything they can to prevent it from happening again. While underachieving Petron seems to be just the team that can pull off two straight wins over anyone else, with that potentially powerful lineup (Cabagnot and Santos may be the best at their positions), San Mig surely wants this to be a one and done encounter. It would be too risky to allow Petron to snatch one.
Should this go to a second game, momentum will surely be on the side of Petron, but the veteran Cone will throw all the marbles into a sudden death affair, which might overwhelm young Petron mentor Olsen Racela. But, Cone and his players are not looking that far. Top guns PJ Simon and James Yap want this done on Thursday, and they are surely capable of accomplishing that.
Talk 'N Text vs. Air21
Defending champ Talk 'N Text seems to be nearly invincible. Yes, they have lost a couple of times, but those were more fluke than fact. Overall, this is the most complete team in the league and has two-deep All-star caliber players at all five positions. The Texters know what it takes to win, and win convincingly. They have raised their level of defensive intensity, and exhibit the confidence only a multiple-time champion can.
While Franz Pumaren's Air 21 has vastly improved with its revamped lineup, and tends to provide TNT with some difficulty, the Express are merely one of the nine other teams that are constantly trying to figure out how to win against Norman Black's charges. Air 21 has to play almost a perfect game to even have a chance to snatch one game from TNT. There is a reason why Talk 'N Text finished the Elims some distance ahead of the rest. Surprises happen in basketball, but Talk 'N Text will always be ready.
The quarterfinals will be exciting simply because every team has a chance, albeit in varying degrees, to move into the next round. The advantage of being in the top two is obviously a huge one for Talk 'N Text and San Mig Coffee. The middle teams, though, are so evenly matched and will dog it out in two hard-fought series, which could very well go the distance.
You can follow Charlie Cuna on Twitter @Charlie C.
Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.