ESPN5.com previews the four quarterfinal match-ups of the 2019 Commissioner's Cup, and what better way to start than with the Manila Clasico series.
1. How they got here
Barangay Ginebra came into the conference with quiet confidence. The last one did not start out well for them but they still emerged as champions. Now, they knew they'd be starting out with Justin Brownlee, which only made the locals be more driven as they knew they needed to play just as hard.
Ginebra started with a lukewarm 3-3 win-loss tally and then they pulled off the biggest move of the conference by trading for Stanley Pringle. Introducing a player as good as him would not happen without speed-bumps along the way but they still went 4-1 with Pringle in the lineup, which was enough for the fourth seed.
Magnolia, on the other end, started out rather flat, which was to be expected from a team that had to go through a grueling seven-game series in the Philippine Cup Finals. To make things tougher, the Hotshots haven't really found the right import in the Commissioner's Cup as their last solid one was Ricardo Ratliffe.
They started with John Fields who had a solid stint with Columbian Dyip but it was clear from the very first game that he was not the right fit. The Hotshots got going with James Farr as he helped them pick up five straight wins. However, just when it looked like they were ready to challenge for the top two spots, they came crashing back down, losing their final four games of the elimination round to match them up with the defending champions.
2. Ginebra can win this series because...
Justin Brownlee is on a different level. Just when we thought the PBA has already seen the best from the resident import, he set a new career-high in scoring twice this conference. Even though their locals are also a force, Brownlee is quite simply a proven winner. He knows how to elevate his game when it matters the most.
Playing alongside Brownlee for a long time has built trust in the entire team and that's the most important factor. Ginebra knows that as long as they have Brownlee, they have a legitimate shot at winning the title.
3. Magnolia can win this series because...
Coach Chito Victolero may have the best defensive schemes against Ginebra in the entire league. Even coach Tim Cone praised the Magnolia head coach's ability to adjust on the fly and, more importantly, make his players understand and execute the said adjustments. He has found a way to limit the output of Greg Slaughter in their past few matches, which has led to a more balanced rivalry even if Ginebra is the stronger team on paper.
As always, the defense of the guards will be crucial for Magnolia, especially because Ginebra has reloaded with Pringle, which made them even tougher to defend. Still, the Hotshots can be a lockdown defensive team and that is their best shot against Ginebra.
4. Key player for both sides
It certainly goes without saying that the imports will be key figures in the short series but in terms of the locals, it should be Pringle for Ginebra and Ian Sangalang for Magnolia.
Pringle has proven that he can win with Ginebra but picking up playoff wins is a much different endeavor altogether. For all his individual success, Pringle is not yet a proven commodity in the playoffs and the defense of the Hotshots could be a tough test.
For the Hotshots, struggles from their guards could be survived. Because of their wealth of talent at the point, even if one guard among Paul Lee, Mark Barroca, and Jio Jalalon plays a bad game, the other two could fill the void.
However, the same could not be said about their forwards as only Sangalang is their consistent scorer. He needs to match up against Slaughter and Japeth Aguilar and maybe even Brownlee if he decides to post-up more so he'll have to figure out a way to still have enough energy for offense.
Although the Hotshots are certainly a live underdog, this team is very different from the team that dethroned Barangay Ginebra in last season's Governors' Cup. If they had an import like Romeo Travis, it would be a 50-50 affair but playing against a team that had Brownlee for the entire conference and then reloaded with Pringle could prove to be too tough for Magnolia as they only have played as single game with their new import Rakeem Christmas who also admitted that he isn't exactly in game shape.
The Hotshots can still play a defensive masterpiece but Barangay Ginebra should be able to handle them in three games.