And now we're down to four.
This Wednesday (July 1), at 7 p.m., marks the official start of the 2015 PBA Governors' Cup semifinals which will feature four teams in a pair of intense matchups. June Mar Fajardo and his San Miguel Beermen teammates go up against Coach Yeng Guiao and the bruisin' bad boys of the Rain Or Shine Elasto Painters while Calvin Abueva and his tongue fellow Alaska Aces battle the slam dunking James Yap and the rest of the Purefoods Star Hotshots. Four teams, two series, one ultimate goal: Reach the final dance of the season's last conference. #KampihanPaMore
The games are bound to exhibit the best brand of basketball the Philippines has to offer. With that in mind, we've come up with a list of must-watch matchups that should spice up the hoops-tastic festivities!
The last time these two met in the playoffs (during this season's Commissioners' Cup quarterfinals), Purefoods beat Alaska in two games. So, you know, the Aces are aching for some payback. The Star Hotshots, however, are peaking at the right time (did you get to see their 53-point destruction of twice-to-beat GlobalPort?) and are looking to defend the last jewel of their Grand Slam crown. Also, as history has shown, these two teams don't like each other. It's bound to be a doozy, fellas!
Mark Barroca vs. JVee Casio
Image via Spin.ph
Former Gilas Pilipinas guards, the Aces' Casio and the Hotshots' Barroca are both certified big time gunners. They have superb sniping skills that extend all the way to three-point territory and the speed to razzle and dazzle. What makes them really entertaining to watch is their penchant to heat up in a jiffy using a variety of unorthodox moves, from awkward alahoy layups to damn-hard-to-block teardrops.
Between the two, Barroca is the more defensive-minded, and his D will be severely tested against Casio's booming threes and daredevil drives.
Marc Pingris vs. Vic Manuel
Image via Spin.ph
Both legit bangers, Purefoods' Pingris and Alaska's Manuel are the 2015 reincarnations of Freddie Abuda. Scrappy like junkyard dogs and star pupils of Jaworski's Elite School of Gulang, both players make the shaded lane a scary place.
They also play with an in-your-face attitude, which could result to a hefty serving of hacks and elbows whenever the two meet in the shaded lane. Both have decent post moves as well although it's their intensity and post presence that get them paid the big bucks.
Sonny Thoss vs. Yousef Taha
Surprised? Don't be. While Thoss has been one of the league's premiere big men for many years now, the 26-year-old Taha has been making waves for Purefoods with his intensity and relentless motor. We expect Coach Tim Cone to make Taha one of his primary defenders against "The Boss," who seems to have found his groove after scoring a nice double-double (14 points 10 boards) in the Aces' quarterfinals conquest of Ginebra. One thing going for "Taha-ntula" is his never-say-die, "I'm-gonna-go-for-that-ball-no-matter-what" play. Let's see if he can contain Alaska's more seasoned starting center.
James Yap vs. Cyrus Baguio
Image via Spin.ph
If there's one thing we've learned from the quarterfinals, it's this: Yap still has the hops and the offensive asim! Aside from that now-viral throwdown (only the second of his illustrious PBA career), the two-time MVP also upped his production, averaging 16 points per game in the previous stage (from 10 in the eliminations) for Purefoods.
Meanwhile, Baguio has proven to be steady on offense all conference long, scoring on back-breaking drives, free-throws (88-percent so far in the Governors' Cup) to long-rage bombs. The two will most probably go at each other in the series. The question now is, who'll bring more than the highlight plays (read: the points that really matter)?
Marqus Blakely vs. Calvin Abueva
Video via Czar Julius
We're tempted to put Alaska's import, Romeo Travis, here but given Abueva's history with Blakely, we feel this is the more interesting matchup. The two have figured in countless on-court skirmishes, and that's not going to change in this series.
Even though he's undersized for the three and four spots, "The Beast" has shown he can be a huge double-double threat at any given night. On the other hand, Blakely has grown accustomed to the bumps, grinds, and antics an import receives each and every game from local defenders. This is his fifth stint with Purefoods after all.
Will Abueva be able to crack "Mr. Everything" like he did the whole Ginebra crew in the quarterfinals or will Blakely keep his cool and continue posting solid all-around numbers (22.54 points, 13.46 rebounds, 4.23 assists, 2.69 blocks per game)? One thing's for sure: They won't back down from anything!
On the other side of the semis coin, we have the Elasto Painters getting ready for another dance with the Beermen. The last time they met in a series (during last season's Philippine Cup semis, San Miguel was still known as the Petron Blaze Boosters), Rain Or Shine won convincingly 4-1. This is Coach Leo Austria's boys' chance to exact revenge, and they have a new key player (more on him in a bit) that can help make it happen.
Paul Lee vs. Chris Ross
One of the league's top guards, Rain Or Shine's Lee (14 points per game in the conference) will face a strong defensive player in Ross, who seems to relish physical play. Not that Lee's a stranger to getting hacked (his missing teeth are proof); in fact, he can dish it out as well! Ross will be waiting though, and it will be interesting to see if the "Lee-thal Weapon" can drive on a player who has the hops, strength, and speed to keep up with him.
Raymund Almazan vs. Arwind Santos
Rain Or Shine beanpole Almazan looks like the 6'9" version of SMB's Santos. Both are lanky with arms that go for miles and can rise to posterize given the opportunity. They'll also have a few dates underneath the basket since they both thrive in getting the boards.
After averaging just 8.36 points in the eliminations, Santos has woken up, scoring 15 in their win over the Meralco Bolts in their last quarterfinals game. He's a former MVP, and the Elasto Painters should be wary about him heating up at the right time, which makes "Rakenrol's" job even more important.
Extra Rice Inc. vs. June Mar Fajardo
Video via PinoyBasketbalista
The battle of the bigs will be focused on June Mar's post play against Rain Or Shine's beefy tag-team of Beau Belga and JR Quinahan. "The Kraken" has posted huge numbers (17.55 points, 12.77 rebounds) in the conference, and has been virtually unstoppable against single coverage. Will two (very) wide bodies be enough? Maybe. What we're sure of is that Belga will come prepared with psy-war tactics to at least slow Fajardo's game down.
We advise you, young June Mar, to prepare a ton of pain relievers for the supersized hack-a-thon you're about to get into.
Jeff Chan vs. Marcio Lassiter
Averaging over 14 points per game so far, Lassiter has been having a dynamite conference. Meanwhile, Rain Or Shine's main gunner, Chan, is only good for about nine points per contest. San Miguel should be careful though because, as we've seen in his Gilas Pilipinas stint, Chan can deliver the bombs when the team needs it the most. We expect a couple of shoot-outs between the two in the PBA semis coral.
Yeng Guiao vs. Arizona Reid