Wednesday, July 01, 2009


Game 1 today!

When going through the rigorous eliminations of the PBA, there are instances when teams grab our total attention and captivate us with their excellence. Such was the case in the 2009 Motolite Fiesta Conference with both the San Miguel Beermen and the Barangay Ginebra Kings.

In different moments of the near-five-month long tourney, these two talented teams took their games to a different gear with SMB posting a conference best 8-game win streak to start the conference while Barangay Ginebra winning eight out of its last nine games to book the last outright semifinal seat of the Fiesta.

Although teams can run the table in the elimination, it is no assurance that it will reward you a spot in the Finals. Both teams took the court once more in the semis and were tested by pesky counterparts. While Burger King tested SMB all the way to the end, Barangay Ginebra found the answer to Rain or Shine and never looked back, closing the series with three consecutive blowouts.

With the road to the Finals cleared, the two best teams are finally side by side. It’s the quick starting San Miguel Beermen against the late charging Barangay Ginebra Kings in a race-to-win-4. Fittingly, it’s the top two teams of the eliminations battling for the top prize of the conference.

These two teams have had storied campaigns in their years in the PBA with one owning the most crowns in league history while the other being the love of fans for many years now. In a league fueled by testosterone, it is ironic that our Finals protagonists happen to be sister teams. They might be called sister teams in the corporate field but this sibling rivalry has been percolating for many years now. They face each other for the fourth time in the finals and the second time in two years.
As sisters, you might expect these two teams to be identical in many regards. The one thing quite noticeable is that both have nice assets. When you look at them from head to toe, they both are well endowed. The only difference is that one is front-heavy while the other is back-heavy.

Looking at SMB, one thing it has in abundance is size up front. With guys like Dorian Pena, Mick Pennisi, Danny Ildefonso, Jay Washington and Marc Pingris, this is a team that can match up with the best bigs. This crew is so flexible that they have the ability to put pressure on opponents with their offense with one group, while still be able to lock you down defensively with another.

Barangay Ginebra may not have size up front but is well rounded in the backcourt. Owning the league’s top playmaker in Jayjay Helterbrand complimented by guys like Paul Artadi, Chico Lanete, Cyrus Baguio, Sunday Salvacion and Ronald Tubid, really serves to complete their own flexibility at the 1-2 spots.

Their imports may not have been their first choice but both served as the final piece to their puzzle. David Noel’s do-it-all style marked with unselfishness has been the glue that kept the Kings together while Gabe Freeman’s intensity and energy has lit a fire underneath the Beermen. They both have been solid but it looks as if their contribution will cancel each other out. I just can’t see them being the reason why they win this series. But they could become a reason for their team losing the series.
Even though the Fiesta is an import-laden conference, I still believe that the series will be won or lost by the locals.

For the Kings, the speed of Artadi, Tubid, Baguio and Helterbrand will continue to be a problem for the Beermen. The last time these two matched-up in the Finals, Helterbrand destroyed the defense of SMB’s guards. The only foreseeable answer would be the emerging Jonas Villanueva (or Bonbon Custodio, who has already been relegated to the backend of the rotation) who in turn could be key for SMB. Salvacion has always been lightning in a bottle and Coach Jong Uichico is hoping that the rains can bring some lightning for his team. Can’t really see any of their big men taking center stage for them but the Kings’ fans must hope that they can at least play their part.

SMB has many more options offensively and can hurt you in more ways. Their guards will definitely have their hands full against their counterparts but they can definitely score themselves. The wildcard has to be Villanueva who is having his best conference. He has not only supplied offense for his team but he is also currently quickest of foot defensively among their three point guards. While Dondon Hontiveros loves the bright lights and looks to cement his prolific year, Washington is a tough matchup for Barangay Ginebra and could also be a surprise. With the Kings only having Rafi Reavis, Billy Mamaril and Noel with size to defend the post, SMB’s bigs looks to be well fed at the post and should be major problems for the crowd-favorites.

The teacher and the student match-up for the fourth time in a playoff series and strangely, Uichico is still looking for his first series win against his protégé.

While San Miguel Beer and Barangay Ginebra have very little to separate them in terms of personnel, some intangibles may be able to paint a clearer picture.

The key advantage for the Kings has been and will always be crowd support. Nothing can carry better a team than a throng of 20,000 strong pushing you to make an extra play. It delivers an extra gear just when you thought you already put it on fifth. They have survived admirably the loss of three high profile players in Mark Caguioa, Eric Menk and Junthy Valenzuela and that really shows the never-say-attitude of this proud franchise. Count in Rudy Hatfield from the last time these teams figured in the Finals of the 2006-07 Philippine Cup and that’s four quality players right then and there.

San Miguel Beer, with only one title to show in the last 18 conferences, is a team that is out to prove a point. I feel that it is almost a team that is playing with a chip on its shoulder. The last time they met in the finals, they were beaten four straight after taking the first two. SMB has been a top-draw but every time they face its sister team, the outpouring of support for the Kings seem to dwarf them. Of the two, it looks like SMB has more to prove to Barangay Ginebra than the other way around.
Lastly, in terms of personnel, SMB has bona fide post-up players against zero for Barangay Ginebra. I always believe that you need some amount of post presence to clinch a playoff series. The Kings had it last year with Chris Alexander and even Menk had his moments. This year the defending champs have no one to go to at the post and that could be the biggest disadvantage.

While they both have impressed this conference, I believe SMB has a slight advantage in the intangibles and it should be enough to carry them in what is expected to be a long series.

original source:

by: jason webb

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