As expected, the San Miguel Beermen and the Magnolia Pambansang Manok Hotshots wrapped up their respective best-of-three quarterfinal match-ups in two games to advance to the semifinals of the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup.
The Beermen survived Greg Slaughter’s best game of the conference to take a hard-fought 100-95 win over the NorthPort Batang Pier. Slaughter finished with 27 points and 12 rebounds to lead NorthPort.
San Miguel countered Slaughter’s size with size of their own, playing their two centers June Mar Fajardo and Mo Tautuaa simultaneously for several crucial stretches of the match. The six-time PBA MVP Fajardo tallied 12 points and 12 rebounds while his tag-team partner Tautuaa racked up 17 points, four rebounds, and three assists in 28 minutes off the bench.
While the big men were left to battle it out in the low post, the Beermen once again focused their perimeter defense on NorthPort’s star guard Robert Bolick. They managed to limit him to only 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting in their one-point Game 1 win and continued to hound him throughout Game 2.
San Miguel’s veteran guard Chris Ross, one of the best defenders in the league, picked up Bolick from the second he received the inbound pass and stuck to him throughout the game. Bolick eventually put up just 12 points on 6-of-18 from the field, but he contributed in other ways as he focused on playmaking and facilitating which led to him finishing with a game-high 14 assists.
The Beermen led by as much as 13 points in the third quarter before the gutsy Batang Pier stormed back in the fourth quarter. NorthPort pulled within four, 89-85, following a lay-up from Sidney Onwubere before San Miguel’s battle-tested veterans closed out the win. Their depth was too much and overwhelmed the Batang Pier as seven San Miguel players, led by CJ Perez’s 21 points, finished with at least 11 points.
The TNT Tropang Giga await the Beermen in the best-of-seven semifinals in what promises to be a thrilling series between two of the deepest teams in the league. TNT has been the best team in the league this year and only lost one out of their 11 games in the eliminations. Coincidentally, the only team to have beaten them was this same San Miguel team that they will now have to face in the second round.
On the other side of the bracket, Magnolia had a relatively easier time dispatching their quarterfinal opponents. They took two consecutive double digit wins over the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters to enter the semifinals where they will take on the winner of the series pitting the NLEX Road Warriors against the Meralco Bolts.
The Pambansang Manok Hotshots and the Elasto Painters both shot below 40% on the game, opening up an opportunity for the imposing frontline of the former to spell the difference in the game. Magnolia won the rebounding battle, 63-36, with 26 of those coming on the offensive end.
Calvin Abueva was the driving force behind this as he tallied 20 points and 19 rebounds in a reserve role while his former college teammate Ian Sangalang also had a double-double (13 points and 11 rebounds).
The Pambansang Manok Hotshots actually opened the game strong and built a 16-point lead, 26-10, late in the first quarter. It looked like they were about to cruise into the semifinals before a vintage stretch from former Magnolia star James Yap brought Rain or Shine to within eight, 49-41, by halftime.
A vigorous run late in the third quarter brought the Elasto Painters within two, 71-69, entering the final period. That turned out to be their last gasp though as Magnolia then proceeded to methodically pull away to take the victory.
It is no coincidence that the three teams (San Miguel, Magnolia, and TNT) who have punched their ticket to the semifinals are the same ones who have been favored since the beginning of the season. The amount of talent on these three rosters is tough to overcome for the rest of the league and now that the latter stages of the season have begun, they are now left to face opponents who have just as much depth on their squads.
The limitations imposed by the pandemic have shortened the season for the second consecutive year, reducing the number of conferences (and championships) available from three to one. This makes this Philippine Cup championship even more valuable and these best-of-seven semifinals promise to be a thrilling showdown as they vie for the league’s sole championship this season.