The quarterfinals of the 2021 Honda PBA Governor’s Cup playoffs breezed past us and it’s hard to believe that it will be the same case for the semis, which will begin next week. Apart from it being potentially a seven-game series, the game slows down and the pace becomes more deliberate.
Four teams remain in the hunt for the Governors’ Cup title and sure, these teams belong to two corporations that have largely dominated the PBA landscape, but much of those championships ended up in the hands of the San Miguel Beermen, TNT Tropang Giga, and the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Gin Kings.
Only the Gin Kings remain in contention, and if either of the Magnolia Hotshots, the Meralco Bolts, and the NLEX Road Warriors end up winning it all, the league would have a different champion for the first time in four years. Incidentally, it was the Hotshots who had the distinction after winning the 2018 Honda Click – PBA Governors’ Cup. Thus, the way things have played out so far are a step, albeit a small one, into parity that certain quarters have been clamoring for.
Among the remaining teams, only the NLEX Road Warriors had to make changes to their imports although it wasn’t on their volition. Their original import KJ McDaniels had to leave prior to the postseason to attend to the birth of his child and NLEX had to bring in Cameron Clark on short notice, making things look like an uphill climb in the knockout rounds.
Clark and the Road Warriors struggled in the opening game against the Alaska Aces, but bounced back over the weekend, with Clark leading the way for NLEX in a 96-80 win with 24 points, eight rebounds, and a cut on his forehead.
That they had the twice-to-beat advantage certainly worked in their favor as they were able to dispatch the Aces for good, a victory that also gave them the distinction of punctuating the end of Alaska’s stay in the PBA.
They will be facing the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Gin Kings, a team that has thrived through adversity with familiarity. A twice-to-beat disadvantage seemed to not matter to them as Justin Brownlee and the rest of the Gin Kings had their way over the 2021 Honda PBA Philippine Cup Champions TNT Tropang Giga.
Naturally Brownlee will always produce solid numbers, but his presence alone provides a huge boost in so far as it opened up things for the rest of the Gin Kings. The other big men got easy shots inside, while Ginebra’s guards could spot up for open shots and maneuver through open driving lanes.
On the other side, the Magnolia Hotshots and the Meralco Bolts had no qualms dispatching the Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters and the San Miguel Beermen, respectively, setting up a blockbuster rematch of their semifinal matchup in the Philippine Cup.
This round, however, could prove to be a grind for both teams. It was an added bonus then, that Magnolia and Meralco got an extra day of rest. Wear and tear will likely factor in for both teams, with the Hotshots having played the most games out of any team this season. The games piling up will certainly not be lost on the likes of Paul Lee and Ian Sanggalang, and their series with the Fuel Masters not extending to a deciding game lessened the chances of any injuries.
In their semifinal matchup in the previous conference, the Bolts and the Hotshots played arguably one of the more physical series in the All-Filipino conference. The presence of imports likely won’t change that as more fouls, free throws, and fireworks will be on agenda.
From here on out, each series will be a best-of-seven affair that will go the distance. A far cry from the previous round, the Governors’ Cup is now about will and in-series strategy as those who make the necessary adjustments and crucial decisions will move one step closer to the title.