At this point in the 2021 Honda PBA Philippine Cup, no team is at 100 percent. Injuries from either earlier in the season or in the playoffs have hampered teams and disrupted their momentum, with some teams faring better than others.
The Meralco Bolts and the TNT Tropang Giga were both hit by the injury bug, but the return of some key personnel helped them earn much-needed wins over the Magnolia Hotshots and San Miguel Beermen, respectively, in their semifinal matches earlier today. The presence of Kelly Williams and Raymond Almazan may not show on the scoreboard but they both allowed their respective teams to have more depth, which in a long and grueling series is a big boost.
It took a Herculean effort from the Meralco Bolts to extend the series against the Magnolia Hotshots
The Bolts’ strategy against the multi-faceted Hotshots offense was to stay in stride with them and pounce when the opportunity calls for it. Magnolia kept picking their spots in the paint and in the perimeter, with seven players scoring for the Hotshots early on enroute to a 10-point lead in the first quarter. Meralco opened Q2 with a 14-2 run, taking a 37-35 lead off an Allein Maliksi 3-pointer with 7:33 left before halftime. It was a close affair from then on, and the Bolts made the crucial baskets in the end, taking a 102-98 win that extended the series to a sixth game.
Meralco needed an offensive explosion from its best players and it finally got a strong performance from Maliksi. The four-time PBA champion scored a game-high 29 points, atoning for a two-point effort in the previous game. John Pinto and Chris Newsome also came up with big performances as they finished with 24 and 23 points, respectively.
Magnolia missed an opportune time to get more rest heading into the finals and also wasted a huge performance from Mark Barroca, who had a team-high 25 points. Calvin Abueva had 19 points, while Ian Sangalang finished with a double-double of 15 points and 14 rebounds. Paul Lee had 13 points, but was clearly affected by his shoulder injury as evidenced by the five turnovers and 4-of-10 shooting performance.
The longer this series goes on, the harder it will be for Lee to recover. As mentioned earlier, he has been nursing a shoulder injury over the past few games and it has affected his approach in the previous games. Of course, he remains aggressive on offense, but protecting an injury certainly gives him a cause for pause in situations he would have otherwise been more certain when fully healthy.
Giving extra possessions will only level the playing field and in a physical series, that could also open up opportunities for fouls. Lee and Jio Jalalon had five fouls each, while Abueva, Barroca, Rafi Reavis, and Rome Dela Rosa each had three fouls. Any more foul trouble will only put them at a disadvantage in the numbers game.
That the Bolts continue to outrebound the Hotshots despite the latter’s size advantage only makes it harder for Magnolia. Meralco’s offensive rebounds lead to extra possessions, which in turn lead to more scoring opportunities. Defensive rebounding also prevents the relentless frontline of Abueva and Sangalang from getting any easy points, with Almazan’s return from an ankle injury also making it easier to battle with the Hotshots on the boards.
Offense wasn’t a problem for the Bolts in this game and hopefully the performances of Maliksi, Pinto, and Newsome give them confidence moving forward. That Alamazan nearly had a double-double in his return should be another positive development as well.
The TNT Tropang Giga wasted no time in atoning for their blowout loss with another strong showing against the San Miguel Beermen
In a series with both lopsided wins and close games, neither team has won back-to-back contests. Such is the case with loaded teams, with both the Tropang Giga and the Beermen capable of lighting up the scoreboard in a heartbeat.
TNT’s 110-90 win over SMB earlier today erased the bad taste of their loss in the previous game. It was a team effort in this one, as six players scored in double figures for the Tropang Giga. Jayson Castro once again led TNT with 19 points and a game-high 8 assists. Mikey Williams and RR Pogoy also atoned for their atrocious performances in Game 4, with both scoring 18 points on 50 percent shooting.
June Mar Fajardo led all scorers with 23 points, while CJ Perez had 18 points off the bench. Most of the Beermen struggled offensively, with only Fajardo, Perez, Mo Tautuaa, and Arwind Santos shooting above 50 percent.
The Tropang Giga welcomed back Kelly Williams and managed to have JP Erram after he got injured in Game 4, developments that matched well with the double-big SMB frontline of Fajardo and Tautuaa. Both San Miguel big men still finished with solid numbers but not only did they have to work harder for points, but the presence of Williams and Erram made it harder for the SMB big men and guards to connect on some possessions as evidenced by the 23-12 assists advantage TNT had.
Moreover, the offensive performance of Mikey Williams was another positive takeaway, as he had been struggling for much of the series. Castro and Pogoy have been the main backcourt contributors, but having the presumptive Rookie of the Year coming up with solid scoring performances eases the pressure from both.
SMB will have to go back to the drawing board when it comes to their offense, chief of which would be their 3-point shooting. Santos, Marcio Lassiter, and Von Pessumal were the only ones who knocked down a 3-pointer, with the three making four of their 14 attempts. The rest of the team missed 11 of their shot attempts and the Tropang Giga had no problems focusing on containing the paint instead. San Miguel head coach Leo Austria will have to get Terrence Romeo and Alex Cabagnot involved as they open things up for the rest of the team and in Romeo’s case, can lead a comeback.
Both series could be decided by this Friday, but regardless of who eventually does advance, no team was left unscathed. With that being said, the numbers game becomes more crucial as the “next man up” mentality could be the difference between an extended series and a disappointing exit.