Down to the last two

The Governors Cup finals is a virtual toss-up. (PBA Images)

The PBA Governors' Cup is drawing to an exciting conclusion with the protagonists for the championship finally determined.  The Rain or Shine Elasto Painters qualified for the Finals last Wednesday, 18 July 2012, after handily beating the B-Meg Llamados who, in turn, survived a battle against crowd favorite Barangay Ginebra last July 20 to set up the best of seven series, which begins on July 22, 6pm at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.  For the Elasto Painters, this is their first Finals stint since the franchise entered the league in 2006 under the Welcoat brand.  The Llamados, on the other hand, have participated in many championship series since their entry into the league in 1988, with some of the greatest players in PBA history gracing their lineup.  This conference, Rain or Shine has beaten BMeg in both their meetings, but going into their clash for the crown, who has the advantage?  Let's talk about some factors to consider.

Experience

Championship experience is obviously on B-Meg's side.  They are fresh off a championship in the Commissioner's Cup and have many veterans in their lineup who are used to the intense Finals competition, and the pressure of the grinding-out, slow-paced halfcourt set-up type of basketball that a championship series usually produces.  As mentioned earlier, Rain or Shine is a neophyte in this situation and may have trouble adjusting, especially in the first couple of games.  This is where B-Meg must take advantage to get an early lead in the series.  Things will eventually even out and the speed in which Rain or Shine fine-tunes itself will determine how long the series goes.  The discussions below are dependent on how the young players of Rain or Shine can step up their game despite their lack of experience.  If they are able to seize the moment, experience may become irrelevant.

Coaching

At the B-Meg helm, Coach Tim Cone won with his former team, Alaska, including a rare grand slam in 1996, and has already won a crown in his short B-Meg stint.  He is definitely up to the challenge and has obviously convinced his players that his system is effective.  They have bought into his philosophy and a second straight Finals appearance is proof positive of this.  His counterpart, Coach Yeng Guiao, himself a veteran of some championship runs, is a first-class motivator who uses line-up changes and substitution patterns to throw off opponents.  He has made the most of inferior lineups in the past and, while not lacking in talent, his young Elasto Painters will make up for their lack of experience with aggressiveness and toughness, two traits exuded by their mentor.  The teams are pretty much even in this category.

Frontline/Import

Rain or Shine has some big bodies up front, and these fellows know how to use their size and like to bang.  Beau Belga, JR Quiñahan, Ronnie Matias, and Jervy Cruz are strong and determined, if not a bit undersized, height-wise.  If Larry Rodriguez can play extended minutes, he, too can help.  Their import, Jamelle Cornley, is strong, an inside operator who likes to get offensive rebounds and keeps the ball alive for his team.  Gabe Norwood plays a lot of guard, but it is essential for him to help out on the boards and try to be a defensive stopper in the lane, use his length and quick feet, to stifle the B-Meg frontliners.  The Rain or Shine frontline must be aggressive and relentless on both ends.  Surely, the injuries of JC Intal and Joe Devance hurt B-Meg, but they still have Marc Pingris, Raffy Reavis, Yancy de Ocampo, and their do-it-all import, Marqus Blakely, who leads his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks.  Blakely's boundless energy is hard to contain for any team, and Rain or Shine does not have anybody who can stick to him all game long.  Team him up with Pingris and they can both cause many sleepless nights for their opponents.  Cone can opt to use undersized Jerwin Gaco to spell the others from time to time, and scarcely-used Ken Bono is ready on the bench.  James Yap plays a lot of small forward and can be effective both posting-up and going to the basket.  Guiao uses Jeff Chan in a similar way, where Chan plays the position of a forward, but usually attacks from the outside.  The battle, though, will be in the trenches, inside the paint.  Offensive rebounding is important in this series.  Primarily because of the tandem of Pingris and Blakely, I will give the frontcourt edge to the Llamados, but not by much.

Backcourt

Now here is where I think the war may be won.  Both teams possess such high-quality guards, and they are of the variety that does not like to back down.  Josh Urbiztondo, Mark Barroca, and Jonas Villanueva are three reliable lead guards who exhibit different styles, and Cone can insert them depending on the prevailing situation that suits their type of game.  Cone also likes to use at least two of them together.  Yap and Peter June Simon are the shooters/scorers in the B-Meg backcourt and are expected to hit the tough shots under the gun.  Urbiztondo's three-point shooting is crucial, since Villanueva and Barroca are nowhere near as consistent from the outside.  Rookie Paul Lee, Chan, Ronjay Buenafe, Norwood, TY Tang, Ryan Araña, and Jireh Ibañes are the backcourt men of Guiao.  Most can shoot from the outside, can handle the ball, and are physical on defense.  Rain or Shine loves to run and, if their big guys can get the rebounds, these guys are ready to attack before the BMeg defense can set up.  Chan is an underrated finisher on the fastbreak and is not just a three-point threat.  If Lee and Araña can bother the B-Meg guards by being physical and denying the entry passes, they can stymie the B-Meg offense.  Ibañes could be the unsung hero, playing as a swingman and defending both frontliners and backcourt players of B-Meg.  Tang has to be able to spell Lee at the point and be effective in limited minutes.  This may surprise many, but I will give a slight edge here to Rain or Shine.  Their "little" men have played consistently and are the main reason for their splendid conference thus far.

Forecast

The match-up is intriguing because the scales would seem to tip in favor of B-Meg at first glance primarily due to its championship experience and more big-name personalities.  But having seen Rain or Shine perform superbly by handily defeating some opponents and also eking out wins in very close games all conference long, there is now a tendency not to underestimate the Elasto Painters.  They have the best record in the league, a veteran coach with several tricks up his sleeve, and players willing to learn and sacrifice their bodies to help their team win.  B-Meg cannot underestimate the abilities of Rain or Shine.  While the odds may be in favor of the more veteran team, the more youthful one might be able to mature quickly and realize they can go all the way.  B-Meg must come out swinging in the first couple of games and leave nothing to chance.  Rain or Shine cannot be discouraged if they get down early and, in fact, should play with a nothing to lose approach.  The pressure is not on them.  This should not be a short series.  There are too many warriors on either side to make it easy for the opponent.  This will go at least six games.  I like underdogs, but I'll give the edge to B-Meg.

Good luck to both teams.  Give us a great series!

Follow Charlie on Twitter: @CharlieC

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.

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