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. We already talked about Javee Mocon, Ian Sangalang, Maverick Ahanmisi, Jio Jalalon, and Matthew Wright in Part 1 of this feature.
Here are the other five key players in the Philippine Cup semifinals.
June Mar Fajardo
In the do-or-die game against TNT, which was eager to dethrone the San Miguel Beermen, June Mar Fajardo put up a performance for the ages. He delivered 32 points on 11/11 field goals, shot 10/13 from the free throw line, and pulled down four rebounds. As a result, the Beermen made one of the most anticipated elimination games in recent memory a foregone conclusion.
His perfect game is tied for the 3rd most makes in PBA history without a miss, and he did it with a gimpy leg. It was truly one of the greatest and gutsiest performances ever. June Mar Fajardo is a freaking legend. Who knows what he's going to do next.
James Yap and Paul Lee
Call it fate, but Rain or Shine and Magnolia are crossing paths in the semis. James Yap and Paul Lee will be linked together again, much how they've been intertwined for the last three years. Both the Hotshots and Elasto Painters are excellent teams, and these two players will finally go head-to-head in a seven-game series despite being in different chapters of their careers.
Yap has reminded everyone this conference how great his shooting still is. Some of his performances were reminiscent of his glory days with his former team.
Paul Lee, on the other hand, is in his prime. His masterpiece against Barangay Ginebra in Game 3 to help tow the Hotshots to the next round is further proof of his lethal mentality, no matter which opponent he faces.
But while Lee has been chugging along, Yap has found new motivation this season. He's been healthy, and everyone is hoping it stays that way. He always has a little extra pep in his step when facing his old squad (case in point when he delivered the dagger in the elims to defeat the Hotshots). Here's hoping for one game where the two duel it out, trading big shot after big shot. When that happens, it will be breathtaking.
The whispers were there all offseason heading into the Philippine Cup: Is this Terrence's last chance in the PBA? Will he destroy the chemistry and spirit of San Miguel? How can TNT trade him for bench players? Has his trade value dropped that low?
We all heard it, and it was further magnified during the Beermen and Romeo's slow start. An ankle injury hounded Romeo and made him look mortal in his first few contests. But then San Miguel began to roll through the conference. Romeo found his groove and played really, really solid basketball.
Solid is a strange way to describe Romeo, but how else can you define him? He's stayed out of trouble and hasn't gotten into any altercations (save for a staredown with RR Pogoy). He has come off the bench with little fanfare, has taken good shots in the flow of the game and has deferred to his teammates when needed.
He's been... really great. Romeo's probably tied with Christian Standhardinger and Sean Anthony for most overqualified sixth man in the PBA today. This might be the version of Terrence Romeo that will finally get him to the Finals. For all the scoring performances, dazzling crossovers and booming triples, team success has been elusive for Romeo. Perhaps for someone as dynamic as him, less is more.
It is crazy to imagine that at one point not too long ago, Calvin Abueva had no team and an uncertain future. In two conferences with Phoenix Pulse, Abueva has elevated the Fuel Masters to two straight top two finishes, and its first semifinals appearance in franchise history.
When coach Louie Alas took in Abueva, he had one simple message: they were going to let Calvin be Calvin. And as everyone knows, that means taking the good with the bad. In a sense, it's allowing him to play using his sharpened basketball instinct, and letting him read the game.
Sometimes it yields disastrous results. It can be three fouls in two minutes, three-pointers clanking off the rim, or foiled fast break attempts. But more often that not, Abueva has been money with Phoenix. He has been putting up numbers close to his Best Player of the Conference run in the 2016 Commissioner's Cup with averages of 15.0 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 1.2 assists.
A lot of the credit goes to Alas, who has been smart in how to use Abueva. Though the team employs the same type of pressing defense as Abueva's former team Alaska, it isn't relentless for 48 minutes. There are times the Fuel Masters are more conservative on defense which gives Abueva and the squad more energy to finish strong in the endgame.
Alas has placed Abueva in familiar circumstances, and he has thrived. Going against San Miguel in a seven-game series is a situation all too familiar for Alas and Abueva. They're looking to do what Alaska was never able to achieve - defeat the Beermen.
The two of them were there for the heartbreaking seven-game marathon in the 2015 Philippine Cup, the sweep in the Governors' Cup, and the "Beeracle" in 2016. For far too long, they were on the wrong side of history. With a new set of hungry teammates, including a mix of veterans and newbies, they're going to look to write their own chapter.