The stage is set for the moment every local basketball aficionado has been waiting for: Manila Clasico Game 7.
The Barangay Ginebra San Miguel forced a do-or-die for the Philippine Cup's remaining Finals slot (against the San Miguel Beermen), following a masterful 24-point win over the Star Hotshots last Sunday, February 19.
It has been one hell of a ride for both teams, which had to basically grind it out in every match before Game 6; the first five meetings were decided by an average of 6.6 points.
Somehow, in this highly competitive semifinal series, trends have been established that influenced either a Ginebra or Star victory. If you notice one or two of these telltale signs during the early goings of Game 7, expect the best or the worst for your favorite squad.
Every time Paul Lee hits double figures in scoring, Star rises. With the 'Angas ng Tondo' having his way to the rim, shooting lights out, therefore demanding the double team, he makes it easier for the rest of the crew to operate.
In each of their three wins, the Hotshots had less offensive rebounds than the Barangay, despite having the series' best glass cleaners (Marc Pingris, Rafi Reavis). Simply because Chito Victolero's wards were converting at a more accurate rate.
Getting 'em freebies
There have been doubts regarding the officiating; one basis is the discrepancy of free throw attempts. True or not, Star has to work on getting to the line to make at least 12 freethrows. Try watching tapes of James Harden for starters (they still have time).
A double-digit rebounding night for Aguilar is almost a sure-win for Ginebra. As the last remaining true big for the Barangay (Greg Slaughter injured, Joe Devance limping), Japeth must dominate the boards to have a positive effect on his team.
'Sol Train' keep a-chuggin'
Tim Cone must play Sol Mercado 35 or more minutes to emerge victorious, records show. Suiting up for just 29, 21, and 31 for Games 1, 2, and 5, respectively (all Ginebra defeats), Sol didn't seem to find his groove offensively and defensively: 25 points and one steal in total.
In-your-face, ugly basketball
Ginebra has to embrace its gritty style of play, winning despite lower field goal and free throw percentages, more turnovers, and less defensive stats (steals, blocks) than Star. This probably isn't the identity the Barangay aims for, but it sure is working for them.