Veteran sports anchor and ESPN5.com writer Charlie Cuna gives his two cents on the PBA Governors' Cup semifinals, covering the period of November 12 to 18.
Game of the Week
Eleven weeks into the PBA Governors' Cup, and the semifinal round continued and concluded. Can we all agree that every single game played in the second week of the semis was a candidate for Game of the Week? While both series ended up at 3-1, with Magnolia and Alaska defeating two-time defending champion Ginebra and two-time runner-up Meralco, respectively, fans were left wishing the latter two teams could have forced Game 5s if only for the pure entertainment value and showcase of heart, grit, determination, and pretty darn good basketball. There was suspense, there was thrill, and surely lots of action in week 11. Unfortunately for the finalists of the past two seasons, there were horror and tragedy as well.
Amidst all of the back-and-forth in games 2 to 4 of each semis series held in the past week, and despite the roaring comeback of Ginebra in Game 3 on Wednesday to win one, there is one game that really left a lasting memory on me, over all the others: Game 3 of the Alaska-Meralco series held on Thursday. The series was tied and the pivotal third game was up for grabs until the very end. The two teams went at it for three quarters and, entering the fourth, it was only a one-point Alaska lead. That fourth quarter though...
It was practically an exchange of basket after basket, as Aces and Bolts tried to outdo each other sequence after sequence, play after play, on both ends of the floor. The last three minutes of the game were filled with big plays - a three pointer answered with a three-point play, a tough jumper countered with a daring drive. The imports, Allen Durham and Mike Harris, were amazing. Alaska held a two-point lead with seconds to go, but Meralco could not convert on its last offensive, even after three attempts, all of which were right at the ring. You all need to watch those last couple of minutes again. Alaska literally just survived, to take a 2-1 series lead, and eventually took Game 4 on Saturday, to clinch a finals seat.
Top performance of the week (local)
Japeth Aguilar put forth an inspired effort on Friday, tallying 25 points (11/14 field goals), 14 rebounds, and two blocks in a game where his Ginebra team was eliminated by Magnolia. Veteran Reynel Hugnatan of Meralco dug deep on Thursday in a similar losing effort against Alaska, posting 19 points, including four of five three-pointers, five rebounds, and five assists. While the imports took center stage most of the time in the past week, there were other commendable performances from the locals. The nod for this week goes to Alaska's Simon Enciso, who, in his team's win on Tuesday to tie the series with Meralco at 1-1, scored 23 points, hitting five of eight from rainbow country. He followed that up with a 17-point (four of eight on threes), five-assist showing in Game 3, where Alaska grabbed the series lead. Enciso is having perhaps his best conference so far in his career and has been one of the primary reasons the Aces are now in the finals again. Yes, his shooting may be streaky and, at times, inconsistent, but this past week, if not for the two performances aforementioned, maybe Meralco would be getting ready to meet Magnolia in the finals.
Top performance of the week (import)
Let us repeat last week's question: "Where do we begin?"
Harris and Durham were outstanding in every game they played. Their numbers were consistently great, plus, if you watched them play, you knew they were going hard all the time, no let up at all. Warriors, both. Then, Justin Brownlee, in Game 3 of the Ginebra-Magnolia series, had a monster-game of 46 points, 19 rebounds, five assists, two steals, and three blocks, leading his team to their only win of the semis. However, the top import performance from the past week goes to the previously least prolific (scoring average-wise) of the four remaining foreign reinforcements - Romeo Travis.
On Friday against Ginebra, reportedly hobbled with a leg injury that prompted Magnolia to search for a possible replacement, Travis told his coach, Chito Victolero, that he was good to go for Game 4, his team up 2-1 in the series. The game was huge because Ginebra had just won Game 3 and was looking to force a rubber match. Earlier in the conference, Travis scored a PBA career-high 37 points, which proved to be short-lived. Shooting 20 of 26 from the field (83%) and 10 of 11 from the free throw line, Travis put up 50 points, spiced it up with 13 rebounds, and stole the ball thrice, in an inspired performance that left fans, opponents, and even his own teammates and coaches shaking their heads. Even Lebron James, his old buddy, had something to say. Aside from his usual perimeter jumpers, he hit some shots we had never seen before, and muscled his way for some shots inside. Magnolia needed practically every single one of his 50 in the 112-108 series clincher. Largely because of Travis, especially his monster Game 4 performance, the Hotshots are back in the finals.
Disappointing performance of the week
Credit must go to the Magnolia Hotshots and their coaching staff, led by Coach Victolero, as the team was able to make Ginebra big man Greg Slaughter almost a non-factor in their semi-final series. In the four games, Slaughter only averaged eight points (high of 14 in Game 2, only 3 in Game 3) on 42 percent field goal shooting, and less than six rebounds. While Ginebra fans could not hide their disappointment with his numbers, Magnolia fans were extremely delighted at their team's game plan that negated the expected advantage Greg would have since, aside perhaps from Rafi Reavis, there is really nobody else on the Magnolia roster that can stand nearly eye-to-eye with Slaughter. Despite the sub-par series for the league's tallest local player, fans (I included) are hopeful that Greg can contribute and do some damage for Gilas Pilipinas in the forthcoming FIBA World Cup Qualifier window. We need Gregzilla to wreak havoc on the visiting opponents.
Must-see for this week
The PBA will take a two-week break as the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers will resume, with our very own Gilas Pilipinas taking on Kazakhstan on November 30 and Iran on December 3. Those two games at the Mall of Asia Arena are of course both must-sees. The PBA best-of-7 finals between Magnolia and Alaska will begin on December 5, also at the Mall of Asia Arena.