Raised stakes more often than not make the playoffs an exciting affair, but the postseason of the 2021 Honda PBA Governors’ Cup has its fair share of storylines that can make things all the more interesting.
There are teams with redemption on their minds (Magnolia Hotshots), while there are those hoping to either chase history (TNT Tropang Giga) or erase the pain of losses past (Meralco Bolts). Amidst those looking to prove themselves (the new-look San Miguel Beermen), there are those seeking a grand curtain call (Alaska Aces).
Nonetheless, each team left in the field is entering the knockout stages with championship aspirations and a personal agenda. How it all plays out remains to be seen.
Here’s a preview of the storylines for the eight teams slugging it out for the Governors’ Cup title.
A strong finish to this year’s PBA Governors’ Cup for the Magnolia Hotshots will atone for the finals loss in the Philippine Cup
The Hotshots have been consistently good and it’s no surprise that they end the elimination round as this conference’s top seed. Compared to four of their playoff peers, they’ve done so with one import in Mike Harris. Harris will likely take home Best Import of the Conference honors with averages of 29.64 points, 13.73 rebounds, 1.91 assists, and 1.09 steals, numbers that may not jump out of the stat sheet just like the likes of Shabazz Muhammad or KJ McDaniels, but should nevertheless not be taken with a grain of salt considering his team’s standing.
Magnolia dropping their last game to the previously winless Blackwater Bossing will do little to douse their confidence, but they will have to ensure health will not be an issue for them in the postseason. Paul Lee was hounded by a shoulder injury in the Philippine Cup and suffered a minor injury early in the Governors’ Cup. Any issues with Lee or any other player on the Hotshots roster healthwise won’t bode well considering how it became an area of focus for the TNT Tropang Giga in the Philippine Cup Finals.
How much will the import change affect the NLEX Road Warriors?
The Road Warriors were the top scoring team in the preliminary round of the Governors’ Cup at 109.18 points per game, with much of that coming with KJ McDaniels in the fold.
Unfortunately, McDaniels had to return to the US to attend to the birth of his child, with NLEX replacing McDaniels with Cameron Clark. Clark is an unknown commodity especially since he has yet to play a game with the Road Warriors.
Practices provide a different environment for games so it will be crucial for Road Warriors head coach Yeng Guaio to assimilate Clark. Working in their favor, though, is the fact that NLEX leads the league in bench points at 46.00 per game. That type of balanced production will be crucial in overcoming the adjustments they will make in the postseason.
The TNT Tropang Giga have a shot at a quasi-Grand Slam
For the TNT Tropang Giga, it’s been a tale of two conferences this season. The Tropang Giga were dominant during the 2021 Honda PBA Philippine Cup and while they are slowly rounding to form, it took longer due to some national circumstances.
Part of TNT’s core took part in the FIBA World Cup qualifying window back in February, disrupting their schedule and forcing them to play more games early on (despite a delayed start given to them and the Magnolia Hotshots). However, it allowed the Tropang Giga to reassess themselves after a 3-4 start, which they responded to by winning their last four games. Now, they have momentum on their side as they try to sweep the titles for this season.
TNT enters the 2021 Governors’ Cup playoffs as the third seed despite having identical 7-4 win-loss records with the Meralco Bolts and the San Miguel Beermen. It gave them a matchup against a lower seed, but with it being the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings and although they beat the Gin Kings in the Philippine Cup quarterfinals, Ginebra is a different team when Justin Brownlee is in the fold.
Will this be the conference where the Meralco Bolts end their empty trips to the postseason?
Much of the Bolts’ playoff trips in recent years have been marred by heartbreaks in the finals at the hands of the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings. This is of course on top of the playoff exits they have had in previous conferences, where despite being a team of good standing they can’t seem to get over the hump.
Meralco head coach Norman Black has always preached discipline on defense and his teams have always featured a different contributor on a nightly basis. Having anyone in his squad step up is certainly a plus, but playoff scenarios require go-to players so he will have to look for consistency on that end.
Is this current iteration of the San Miguel Beermen capable of returning to championship glory?
The changes in the Beermen roster have certainly brought them down a few rungs among the league’s title contenders, but they remain as talented as ever.
Having Shabazz Muhammad certainly masks some of their issues, but their postseason fate lies with June Mar Fajardo, who continues to work his way back from a major leg injury. Fajardo returning to being a major threat on the post will only bode well for San Miguel and Muhammad, who seems to score regardless of who is defending him.
Will the Justin Brownlee effect once again work for the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings?
If we’re being honest here, Brownlee has largely been the reason for Barangay Ginebra’s success in conferences where imports are allowed to play. In the last seven conferences he has suited up for the Gin Kings, the Georgia native has gone on to lead his team to the finals four times, winning in all four trips.
The familiarity between Brownlee and Barangay Ginebra will certainly be useful in the playoffs, especially when the pressure rises and the shots get tougher. As the PBA’s best in terms of shooting proficiency from inside the 3-point line, it shouldn’t be a problem, but it won’t matter if they commit more than the 15.18 turnovers they averaged over the preliminary round.
A PBA Governors’ Cup title would be quite the ending for the Alaska Aces
The Aces dominated the headlines in early February when they announced that they would be exiting the PBA after nearly four decades and 14 championships. The 1996 Grand Slam champions’ exit will leave a gaping hole in terms of league parity and a perennial contender, especially if the team is not bought before the next PBA season starts.
Following the announcement, Alaska pulled off two consecutive wins to go to 5-2, but then they went 1-3 the rest of the way to fall to seventh place at 6-5. The end-season struggles largely come from their poor 3-point shooting (league-last 27 percent), which makes them much easier to defend inside. It also doesn’t help that they cough up the ball a lot as they led the league in turnovers at 16.82 per game. Unlocking that dimension to their offense ang taking care of the ball could spell a difference between a PBA run that ends with a bang or a whimper.
Do the Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters still have enough left in the tank?
The Fuel Masters had quite the journey heading into the postseason. Apart from an import change, they had to play an extra game against the NorthPort Batang Pier just to earn the right to face the top seed Magnolia Hotshots. Staring at a large deficit, Phoenix rallied back to secure the win and overcame the struggles of Matthew Wright, who hit the go-ahead basket (and just his second field goal) with 29 seconds left in the game.
A win like that will certainly give momentum to the Fuel Masters, but how much do they have left to face arguably the strongest team in the field? It remains to be seen, but Du’Vaughn Maxwell has certainly blended in well with the team. Wright and Jason Perkins will back him up both from inside and outside, but against a team like Magnolia, they may have to play two perfect games.
History will largely remember the eventual champion of the 2021 PBA Honda Governors’ Cup, but that shouldn’t discount the efforts of the other teams that will put up a valiant fight. Next week should be a treat especially with the raised stakes, and we should be in for an exciting conclusion to the PBA’s 46th season.