After a brief pause and an interesting turn of events to close the season, the playoffs of the 2021 Honda PBA Philippine Cup are finally upon us.
The first day of the postseason didn’t disappoint as despite the contrasting finishes, both games only added more veracity to the notion that games don’t end until the buzzer sounds. True, the higher seeds were able to notch Game 1 wins, but the four teams know that they have some things to work on heading into their respective Game 2s.
Here are some takeaways from yesterday’s games:
The Magnolia Hotshots won despite cold shooting from Paul Lee, but they can’t let that happen again
Paul Lee is the Magnolia Hotshots’ franchise cornerstone, yet it’s Ian Sangalang that serves as the team’s lynchpin.
With Lee misfiring for much of Game 1, it was Sangalang who picked up the slack and helped set things up for Lee to put the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters away. The former San Sebastian Stag finished with 19 points and a game-high 13 rebounds, matching up well against the imposing Rain or Shine frontline of Santi Santillan (17 points and 12 rebounds), Beau Belga, and Norbert Torres.
Lee may have finished with 20 points, but he needed 22 shots (and six made field goals) to do so. Of course, the Hotshots would prefer to have him and Sangalang at their best as they provide the inside-outside combination that would stymie defenses. Expectations are that the eight-time PBA All-Star will likely bounce back from his slump in the next game as he scored 14 points in the final quarter. With that, the Elasto Painters will continue to focus on developing a game plan for him.
Save for the final score, Rain or Shine finished with relatively the same offensive numbers as Magnolia, but the Elasto Painters have to ensure that their perimeter game remains on point. Not only does it make the Hotshots backcourt work on the defensive end, but it also opens things up for the Rain or Shine big men, who thrive off the creative abilities of the likes of Javee Mocon and Rey Nambatac. Belga actually finished with six assists against the Hotshots and him creating plays could also be another area the Elasto Painters can explore.
Rain or Shine are known by their physical brand of play and it could wear teams down even for just a three-game series. It certainly factored into Lee’s off night but the Elasto Painters can’t rely too heavily on that if they want to advance further.
It was another case of close but no cigar for the NorthPort Batang Pier against the San Miguel Beermen, but it was too close for SMB’s comfort
You come at the San Miguel Beermen, you best not miss.
This was the lesson the NorthPort Batang Pier learned twice in this edition of the Philippine Cup.
Game 1 between SMB and NorthPort was a close affair in the first half and while the Beermen built double-digit leads in a few instances in the second half, the Batang Pier managed to come back twice. Robert Bolick even managed to cap off their 14-4 fourth quarter run with a deep 3-pointer with 5.1 seconds left that gave NorthPort an 87–86 lead.
Unfortunately, they left too much time for Alex Cabagnot.
Cabagnot, who missed the rest of the resumption of the elimination round to recover from a back injury, converted on a fadeaway jumpshot with 1.5 seconds left to put San Miguel within a game of the semifinals and break the collective hearts of the Batang Pier.
Heartbreaking as it may be for NorthPort, the latter half of the final quarter provided a blueprint for them to take the next two games. The Batang Pier have the youth advantage and used it wisely against the older Beermen squad. Aside from forcing SMB to commit 20 turnovers, they also exploited June Mar Fajardo’s weakness in pick-and-roll defense and converted on drives to the basket.
On offense, NorthPort can also build on their 9-of-32 3-point shooting, where a third of those 3-pointers came in the final 3:30 of the game. They will, however, have to work on their free throws, as going 8-for-16 feels a whole lot worse given how it was a one-point game.
San Miguel will look at what worked and what didn’t, but they also have to keep in mind the Batang Pier’s adjustments. They can utilize an intriguing lineup with Fajardo and Tautuaa together, with the latter switching on the roll man so as to provide somewhat better pick-and-roll defense. If it’s Jamie Malonzo setting the pick and not Greg Slaughter, they will have to make sure Fajardo is not picked on.
The return of Cabagnot, who finished with a game-high 20 points against NorthPort, also somewhat assuages any worries about the loss of Terrence Romeo, who led the league in scoring for this conference. SMB head coach Leo Austria can opt to bring back Romeo slowly but they can give him an extra day off in Game 2. It’s up to them if they want to leave things to chance.
By no means are both quarterfinal series over. The Rain or Shine Elasto Painters and the NorthPort Batang Pier can easily win their next two games over the Mangolia Hotshots and the San Miguel Beermen, respectively, and advance to the semifinals. How it all plays out depends on how they adjust to the circumstances that arose from the opening games.