By TITO S. TALAO
Manila, Philippines – Careful what you wish for, Tim. Then again, who wouldn’t be fired up to play Barangay Ginebra San Miguel in the semifinals?
Moments after eliminating defending three-time champion Talk ‘N Text in their quarterfinal series Sunday, San Mig Super Coffee coach Tim Cone, usually reticent on matters like these, bared his soul.
“I’m stoked, really pumped up to play Ginebra,” said Cone after the Mixers sent off the Tropang Texters in their knockout game, 90-82, to set up a best-of-7 Final Four showdown with the Kings in the PLDT myDSL PBA Philippine Cup.
“To be honest, I was really hoping for an opportunity to play a best-of-seven (against Ginebra),” said Cone. “It’s always fun to play Ginebra. They bring in the crowd, we bring in the crowd, it’s going to be a fun series.”
A candid Cone got what he had hoped for. Now he’ll find out whether the Kings and their Twin Towers are as much fun as he had expected.
Game 1 is at 8 tonight at the Mall of Asia Arena, with the winner of the series advancing to the best-of-7 Finals against whoever emerges in the other semis matchup between Rain or Shine and Petron Blaze.
No. 5 San Mig took the first game of the best-of-3 playoff but dropped the second as No. 4 TNT rebounded behind Jayson Castro. Fourth quarter foul trouble hounded the Texters in Game 3, however, allowing the Mixers to break away in the closing minutes.
Top seed Ginebra, on the other hand, lost to No. 8 Alaska Milk in their first game and needed its twice-to-beat advantage to thwart a monumental upset and gain a second chance, with the smoldering Kings eventually razing the Aces.
The head-to-head between the two semifinalists is even: Ginebra routed San Mig on opening day last November 17, but the Mixers avenged that lopsided loss, 83-79, on January 5.
“Kahit sino naman ang kalaban e,” said Ginebra coach Ato Agustin. “Ang mahalaga e nakapasaok sami (in the semis). Ngayon San Mig ang nandiyan, paghahandaan namin sila ng husto.”
The first order of battle for Cone would be to devise a defensive plan that would ground high-flying Ginebra forward Japeth Aguilar and lower the Kings’ soaring energy level which feeds off their manic supporters.
It’s gonna be tough,” said Cone. “Ginebra is coming from such a huge win against Alaska. It’s tough to meet their energy but our guys will get themselves ready. It’s a long series, so we’ll work it through if we can.”
Then the Mixers shooters – James Yap, Marc Barroca, Joe Devance, Alex Mallari, PJ Simon, and belatedly rookie Justin Melton – will have to find their mark early to draw out the defense and unclog the paint for Marc Pingris, Rafi Reavis, and Yancy de Ocampo to neutralize 6-foot-11 Greg Slaughter.
San Mig utilizes the triangle offense as much as possible to keep its complicated offense flowing and in order, and it will be up to Ginebra to disrupt the Mixers and drag them into a run-and-gun shootout.
Judicious shot selection is not the Kings’ best suit and their impatience puts them in trouble in more than few occasions. Expect the Mixers to pounce on that if Ginebra remains in helter-skelter mode.
Getting the ball “a hundred ways” to Slaughter, other than asking him to post up or lobbing it to him, will be a deciding factor for the Kings if they succeed in getting the rock to the Big Fella three feet from the basket.