The elimination round is over and we've just bid adieu to a controversial quarterfinals (we feel your pain, Ginebra fans): Pinoy hoops fans, welcome to the start of the real battle a.k.a. the semifinal round of the 2015 PBA Commissioner's Cup!
Of the 12 teams, only four are left with a chance to win it all. Coincidentally, the semis feature three of the top four squads after the eliminations: Rain or Shine (1), Talk 'N Text (2), and Purefoods Star (3). The fourth member is Meralco which entered the playoffs as the not-too-shabby fifth seed.
The conference's penultimate round is divided into two best-of-five skirmishes. On one hand, the battle-tested Elasto Painters will be up against the surging Bolts while the streaking Hotshots will slug it out with the revenge-minded Tropang Texters in what is their fourth post-elims dance in the last five conferences.
The pretenders have been separated from the legit contenders and the pairings are official. Here now are the 10 must-watch semis player matchups that will have a huge effect on determining who will be late additions to the 2015 Bora Cup and which teams will go to the finals. #KampihanPaMore
RAIN OR SHINE VS. MERALCO
Rain or Shine has established itself as one of the league's elite teams, having reached the semis in the past five conferences. It's a different story for Meralco though, as the team hasn't reached the finals since joining the league five years ago.
A mismatch of epic proportions? Don't count on it. The Bolts have shone all conference long that they've got the tools to hang with the big boys (they actually were the top team in the first half of the eliminations), and they're obviously hungry to get their first-ever crown. Rain or Shine though will be ready with their own brand of effective bruising, WWE-like play.
MIKE CORTEZ (MERALCO) VS. PAUL LEE (RAIN OR SHINE)
- Lee: 15.91 points, 6.55 rebounds, 3.18 assists
- Cortez: 9.33 points, 3.83 rebounds, 4 assists
While the stats point to Lee having a better all-around game, "Cool Cat" Cortez is still a very talented point guard who can make the shots and the plays when they count. Both can shoot from the outside and rip the opposing team's defense with timely cuts and slashes to the ring. It will be fun to watch these two go at it with their speed, crossovers, and jaw-dropping dimes.
REYNEL HUGNATAN (MERALCO) VS. BEAU BELGA (RAIN OR SHINE)
- Hugnatan: 6.85 points, 3.46 rebounds, 0.92 assists
- Belga: 6.17 points, 3.75 rebounds, 2.67 assists
Their numbers might not be superstar-level, but Hugnatan and Belga are the premiere big men for their respective teams. They provide leadership as well as tough interior D that will make anyone think twice about taking it all the way to the hoop. And when there's a shortage on points, their teammates can count on them to deliver—Hugnatan with his crafty inside play and Belga with his offense that extends all the way to the rainbow territory. Expect a hefty serving of gulang moves when the two bang.
CLIFF HODGE (MERALCO) VS. GABE NORWOOD (RAIN OR SHINE)
- Hodge: 7.09 points, 6.82 rebounds, 1.18 blocks
- Norwood: 7.50 points, 3.25 rebounds, 1.17 steals
Both are high-flyers that are potential poster-producers in any given game. Aside from the dunks, Hodge delivers the hustle moves that will make even Rodman himself proud. Norwood, meanwhile, is a top-level defender that can shut down guards and forwards. Let's see if he can put the clamps on Hodge's kiti-kiti play.
GARY DAVID (MERALCO) VS. JEFF CHAN (RAIN OR SHINE)
- David: 18.54 points, 2.46 rebounds, 1.46 assists
- Chan: 8.75 points, 2.75 rebounds, 2.33 assists
This matchup features two of the league's best snipers. David is firing on all cylinders this conference, making treys and NBA Jam-esque baskets. Chan has less impressive numbers but expect him to be ready to make the shots that will break the hearts of the opposing team's fans, just like what he did during their quarterfinals series versus Ginebra. There's a reason why these two are part of Gilas Pilipinas. Let's see who'll wax hotter.
JOSH DAVIS (MERALCO) VS. WAYNE CHISM (RAIN OR SHINE)
- Davis: 22.15 points, 17.38 rebounds, 1.23 blocks
- Chism: 29.86 points, 14.86 rebounds, 1.0 block
In the import matchup, we have Meralco's workhorse and Rain or Shine's scoring dynamo. Davis is, perhaps, the most defensive and hustle-minded import today, averaging more than a block and just over two steals per contest. Think of him as a 6'8" version of Calvin Abueva. Scary.
Meanwhile, Chism is an offensive machine that can hurt you from long distance or inside the paint. He also has the bulk to bump and grind, making him hard to stop even for centers. Will Davis be able to stop Chism, or will Chism make giniling out of the former's D? We'll find out soon enough!
PUREFOODS STAR VS. TALK 'N TEXT
On the other side of the semis coin, we have Purefoods going up against Talk 'N Text once again. The former has had the latter's number for the past few conferences, beating the Tropang Texters in each of their three playoffs series last year. So, you know, TNT wants payback.
However, Purefoods has been on a tear so far, winning their last six games including a 34-point bamboozling of Alaska in Game 1 of their quarterfinals matchup. They're peaking at the right time and has sent notice to the rest of the league that their Grand Slam form is back. We reckon though that Talk 'N Text aren't intimidated.
MARK BARROCA (PUREFOODS STAR) VS. JAYSON CASTRO (TALK 'N TEXT)
- Barroca: 11.85 points, 4.46 rebounds, 1.23 steals
- Castro: 17.17 points, 4.50 rebounds, 5.00 assists
Here we have two of the PBA's marquee point guards, and it will be interesting who will win this "minion" battle. Castro's offense has been nothing short of spectacular, showing everyone just why he's considered Asia's best point guard. "Coffee Prince" Barroca wants none of that, and will certainly use his pesky defense to make life hard for "The Blur." Oh, he can score, too (he's Purefoods' second-leading scorer, just behind their prolific import—and yes, ahead of James Yap, Peter June Simon, and Marc Pingris).
MARC PINGRIS (PUREFOODS STAR) VS RANIDEL DE OCAMPO (TALK 'N TEXT)
- Pingris: 8.46 points, 8.15 rebounds, 2.85 assists
- De Ocampo: 14.50 points, 6.33 rebounds, 1.83 assists
Another matchup featuring Gilas players, this one will be a battle of wit, physicality, and the proverbial b-ball angas. De Ocampo is the more capable scorer and will make you bleed with his elbows from the outside or inside with his befuddling array of hook shots, reverse stabs, and jumpers. Pingris though is a different animal, one that makes a living playing the Sakuragi card on rebounding and guarding anyone from pint-sized point guards to mamaw centers and imports. Both play the power forward slot so get ready to witness hand-to-hand combat when the two meet.
JOE DEVANCE (PUREFOODS STAR) VS. JAY WASHINGTON (TALK 'N TEXT)
- Devance: 9.46 points, 6.00 rebounds, 3.15 assists
- Washington: 5.00 points, 2.80 rebounds, 0.70 assists
Don't expect hard-hitting action and textbook defense in this matchup; Devance and Washington aren't exactly the epitome of a blue-collar player. Instead, expect them to play key roles as both can drill threes and medium-range jumpers when given a little bit of space. The two are what analysts call "stretch-fours," which means they stretch the defense because of their outside shooting, sometimes to breaking point if they're on fire.
JUSTIN MELTON (PUREFOODS STAR) VS. MATT GANUELAS-ROSSER (TALK 'N TEXT)
- Melton: 4.62 points, 2.69 rebounds, 1.62 assists
- Ganuelas-Rosser: 11.83 points, 3.73 rebounds, 1.00 block
We know, we know, they play different positions. Melton is slam-dunkin' point guard while Ganuelas-Rosser is a bibo forward who always seems to have downed a couple of espresso shots before each game. However, they're impact is similar: they provide the hustle, defense, and if we're lucky, dunks that prove PBA players can really sky. Look for them to energize their team when needed.
DENZEL BOWLES (PUREFOODS STAR) VS. IVAN JOHNSON (TALK 'N TEXT)
- Bowles: 31.29 points, 13.57 rebounds, 2.86 blocks
- Johnson: 33.86 points, 14.43 rebounds, 2.71 steals
And in this series' import skirmish, we have two hulking behemoths in Purefoods' Bowles and Talk 'N Text's Johnson. Bowles is showing why he's a balik-import, posting impressive, fantasy-level numbers that were instrumental to his team's current success. He has good post moves and an impressive jumper that makes him a lethal two-way player. When he spots up, ilista mo na.
Johnson is a similarly-potent offensive player, although his range extends all the way to three-point land. Don't let that fool you though, our man Ivan will dunk on your sorry ass if you let him get deep. Plus his intimidating scowl and presence make any would-be penetrator think twice about entering the shaded lane.
The two will most probably cancel each other out which means that the locals will have the last say on who will win the series.
The 2015 PBA Commissioner's Cup semifinals start tonight with Game 1 of the Meralco vs. Rain or Shine series in the Smart Araneta Coliseum. Game time is 7 p.m. Game 1 of Purefoods vs. Talk N' Text is tomorrow, April 1, also at 7 p.m.