After an exciting quarterfinals, four teams remain in the 2019 PBA Philippine Cup playoffs -- Phoenix, Rain or Shine, San Miguel and Magnolia.
The top-seeded Fuel Masters take on defending champions San Miguel Beermen, while Rain or Shine faces Magnolia. Here is a look at the remaining players who have been vital in their team's run this conference.
From the rookie Javee Mocon to the reigning MVP June Mar Fajardo, here are the 10 key players in the semifinals.
Here are the first five, in no particular order.
Javee Mocon is the last rookie standing. Among a crowd of highly-touted studs like CJ Perez and former college teammate Robert Bolick, Mocon has been consistent with every role he's been asked to play. Now, he gets his first taste of playoff action against one of the toughest defensive squads in the league. Mocon has the chance to use the playoffs as a stage to show everyone he is one of the top newcomers in the league. Will he stand out or just be another contributor on a loaded Rain or Shine squad?
It has been a career conference for Sangalang as he has improved in every facet of the game. He's averaging a 15.7 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.6 blocks per contest. In the quarterfinals, his versatility confounded Ginebra's bigs and made Greg Slaughter almost unplayable.
But the challenge is different against Rain or Shine, who have all types of bigs to throw at Sangalang. They have legit post defenders in Jewel Ponferada, Beau Belga and Norbert Torres. Though he is one of the best bigs in the league, Sangalang has been flying under the radar. A second straight finals appearance will help turn even more heads, although it definitely won't come easy.
Ahanmisi is in a similar situation as Sangalang -- he has all the skills and the numbers, yet has been mainly overlooked. But in fairness to Ahanmisi, it's not easy for anyone on the Rain or Shine squad to stand out with the system they run.
Ahanmisi has been exceptional this conference on the defensive end. He has guarded everyone from Stanley Pringle to Perez with great success. He helped limit Pringle to one of his worst performances of the conference, and now he'll most likely have the assignment against Paul Lee in the semifinals. "Mighty Mav" has had to carry a lot on his shoulders, and for the Elasto Painters to make a rare finals appearance, he'll have to do even more. Is he up to the task?
With each passing game, Jio Jalalon has looked more and more like the evolution of his teammate Mark Barroca -- a rugged, relentless defender who finds different ways to score when needed. But while Barroca is a disciplined, calculated performer on the floor, Jalalon is the opposite. He relies on his instincts and innate athleticism to dive for loose balls, pressures defenders for the length of the floor, and reads situations when penetrating on offense. Only in his third year in the league, the Cyclone has been invaluable to the Hotshots' cause.
Against the Elasto Pinters, there will be no shortage of players for Jalalon to defend. A surging Rey Nambatac, a red hot James Yap, and a physical guard with size in Ahanmisi, all pose different challenges. Jalalon will have to defend each of them at different times. Jalalon's energy on that end ignites the rest of his teammates, and it is symbiotic with his offense.
On the bus while heading to a practice in Taiwan for Gilas Pilipinas' game against Chinese-Taipei last year, Matthew Wright spoke to ESPN about the Fuel Masters. When asked what it would take for Phoenix to reach the next level he answered, "Any of these guys, give us any of these kids and we're a championship caliber team."
Sitting on the bus, creating a stir and making everyone laugh was Calvin Abueva. At the time, Abueva was suspended by Alaska for failing to appear at games and practices, and his future with the team was uncertain. A few months later, Abueva was traded to Phoenix and became teammates with Wright.
With Abueva, the Fuel Masters have gone to another gear and have finished in the top two in every conference since the trade. Wright, though, is the biggest reason for Phoenix's success. He leads the team in points, assists, and steals, and has been one of the most consistent players on the squad. He's shown a willingness to defer to teammates when needed, such as the Jason Perkins explosion against Alaska in the quarterfinals. Of course, he's always been ready to take over on offense too. Wright is pound for pound one of the best players in the league. And now that only four teams remain, the stage is his to prove that to the rest of the country.