Commissioner's Cup quarterfinals preview: Blackwater vs. Rain or Shine

ESPN5.com previews the four quarterfinal match-ups of the 2019 Commissioner's Cup. We take a look at the 3 vs. 6 match-up featuring the upstart Blackwater Elite and the veteran Rain or Shine Elasto Painters.

1. How they got here

The roles have reversed for Blackwater and Rain or Shine, at least for the ongoing 2019 PBA Commissioner's Cup.

The Elite enter the mid-season, import-spiced conference playoffs as the third seed, their highest ranking at the close of the eliminations in franchise history after compiling a 7-4 win-loss record. That's a complete contrast from the team's last-placed finish in the 2019 Philippine Cup.

Blackwater zoomed to a 5-1 start this conference, thanks to hulking import Alex Stepheson's consistent 20-20 output, along with Bobby Ray Parks' inspired plays right in his first full conference in the PBA.

Stepheson averaged 22.2 points, 22.0 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in his first six games.

The left-handed Parks on the other hand, submitted do-it-all numbers of 22.36 points, 7.55 rebounds and 4.09 assists in the eliminations.

The Elite had a huge opportunity to finish at the Top Two in the elims, but Stepheson had to cut short his PBA stint after contracting E.Coli bacteria in his stomach.

Blackwater still managed to win two of its last five games to punch a playoff ticket and arrange a best-of-three quarterfinal duel with Rain or Shine with replacement import Staphon Blair in tow.

On the other hand, Rain or Shine limped to a 5-6 record at the close of the single-round eliminations. It has been a roller-coaster ride for the Asian Coating franchise, which was tipped to dominate the tournament after bringing in former PBA Best Import Denzel Bowles.

The Elasto Painters though failed to live up to the high billing, relying heavily on Bowles too many times. "Monster Bowles" eventually suffered a knee injury in the team's 86-84 victory over Alaska in the final stretch of the eliminations, forcing the team to tap undersized Carl Montgomery as its import.

Despite a wobbly elimination-round performance, ROS avoided dropping out of the Top Six, making it through the best-of-three quarterfinal series after splitting its last two games.

2. Blackwater can win this series because...

They will have Greg Smith reinforcing them. The former Houston Rockets backup big man is taking the spot of the injured Staphon Blair.

Smith is a familiar face for PBA fans, having played for the Elite in this same conference two years ago.

The 6-foot-9 Smith is in excellent game shape after coming fresh from a stint in Puerto Rico. And that's one of the reasons why coach Aris Dimaunahan sounded optimistic in their bid for a first-ever semifinal stint in franchise history.

"Greg Smith's arrival made the team more upbeat," shared Dimaunahan. "With his great character, it's easier for us to get along with one another. He's a welcome addition for us and is in great shape coming from a just concluded Puerto Rico stint."

For the new Blackwater coach, it's just a matter of executing its game plan well and relying on teamwork once more to get the job done.

"We should be on the dot with our game plan and be able to execute for us to have a strong chance of winning (the series)," he added.

3. Rain or Shine can win this series because...

They have the playoff experience.

Rain or Shine's frontcourt got shorter after deciding to trade slotman Raymond Almazan to Meralco for a pair of future first round picks before the start of the 2019 Commissioner's Cup.

Coach Caloy Garcia recognizes the fact that their frontcourt rotation got shorter with only Beau Belga and Norbert Torres as ROS' legitimate local bigs. Undersized bigs Jewel Ponferada, Mark Borboran and Sidney Onwubere will try to help out on the defensive end.

And though Bowles is no longer around to lead Rain or Shine in its title chase, ROS can still rely on its rich playoff experience in trying to upstage the young and hungry Blackwater side in the quarterfinal phase.

Sure, Carl Montgomery is not in the mold of Bowles. But Garcia is confident that the 6-foot-8 former Malaysian League import can get the job done through hustle and the energy.

"I think by now he (Montgomery) is able to adjust. But of course, we're not a big team so he has to do the dirty work for us," said Garcia. "His energy alone has been carrying us against Magnolia and San Miguel. He was able to compete at least and basically, he can give us the different look, which is what we're looking for."

4. Key players from both sides

Smith has the upperhand against Montgomery, having played for Blackwater in 2017 where he submitted monster numbers of 27.7 points, 21.2 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.0 blocks per game.

Fresh off a stint with Vaqueros de Bayamon in Puerto Rico, the 28-year-old American is sure to dominate the painted area and give Garcia and ROS headache on defense.

Smith's inside presence will only embolden Parks, Allein Maliksi, Mike DiGregorio and Mac Belo to shoot more, knowing Blackwater has a reliable inside operator.

For the Elasto Painters, Belga will have to use his heft to try to neutralize the 6-foot-9 Smith.

Gabe Norwood on the other hand, is expected to showcase his defensive prowess as he looks to put the clamps on the sweet-shooting Parks.

At 34, Norwood, remains a solid defender, who can also provide instant offense with his three-point shooting and be a fastbreak anchor.

Youngsters Rey Nambatac and Javee Mocon will inject the youth and dynamism for an ROS side that just fell one win short of reaching the Finals of the 2019 PBA Philippine Cup.

5. Prediction

Dimaunahan has done well in instilling his system at Blackwater right in his first conference as coach. Players know their respective roles, which have no doubt, contributed to the team's seven-win total in the elimination round.

The Elite are hungry for recognition. Now, they have a golden chance at writing their own destinies by making the most of their quarterfinal pairing with the Elasto Painters.

Blackwater is hungry, has a versatile rookie who plays like a veteran in Ray Parks, plus a bunch of locals who are eager to prove the Elite deserve a second look as far as contending for the championship is concerned.

With Rain or Shine staggering at this point, the Elasto Painters would be fortunate to score one win. But this stacked-up Blackwater is very much capable of scoring a 2-0 sweep.