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PBA: B. Pier, Aces start semis

Chris Banchero (PBA IMAGES)

Chris Banchero (PBA IMAGES)

Game Today (Mall of Asia Arena)
7 p.m. – Globalport vs Alaska

Armed with two important skirmishes in the playoffs, Globalport steps into the big stage today when it challenges the multi-titled Alaska Aces, last season’s Game 7 heartbreak kids, in a full-scale war at the start of the Smart Bro-PBA Philippine Cup semifinals at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Game 1 of the best-of-7 series is at 7 p.m., with the Aces, who had the championship snatched from their hands by San Miguel Beer’s Arwind Santos last year, fresh from a 15-day rest after qualifying to the semis outright as the top team in the elimination, and the Batang Pier, who sealed their first-ever Final Four appearance by ousting Barangay Ginebra San Miguel in a disputed knockout quarterfinal game on Dec. 27, working from a 7-day break.

The other semifinal matchup between defending champion San Miguel and Rain or Shine kicks off tomorrow also at the MOA Arena.

Alaska claimed the No. 1 spot in the semis after downing Barako Bull, 108-100, on Dec. 19 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. No. 5 Globalport, on the other hand, found no use of its twice-to-beat advantage in the quarterfinals in turning back the same Barako Bull team, ranked 9th in the playoffs, 94-85; the Batang Pier then caused a minor upheaval by dispatching in overtime Barangay Ginebra, 84-83, in a do-or-die encounter to advance.

The seeds of a future makeover in the playoff format were planted in that game after the referees missed two apparent violations by Globalport’s Stanley Pringle in the last eight seconds, denying Barangay Ginebra final possession with around three seconds left.

Tim Cone, the Kings coach, has decried the format, asking the PBA to get rid of the knockout phase of the quarters and put in place instead a mini-series. Globalport coach Pido Jarencio, whose team is in the semis precisely because of that rule, reportedly shares the view.

A source in the Commissioner’s Office said the matter could be calendared in the Board of Governors’ first meeting for 2016.

Meantime, that subject gets momentarily shelved to give way to a more pressing issue: how Globalport plans to rebound from a 123-104 debacle to Alaska in the elims.

The last seven days should have given Jarencio and his staff an idea at what hit them that day: Alaska was off the block like gunfire, 16-6, with the biggest lead at 22 points (118-96) near the end; eight Aces were in double figures with nobody playing more than the 26 minutes of RJ Jasul and no one getting extra field goal attempts than the 12 of Cyrus Baguio (6 of 12 for 17 points); and the defense forced Globalport to cough up 20 points off turnovers (to Alaska’s 9).

The ease with which Alaska took off and the luxury it wielded in bringing in and taking out men without losing momentum or pace are astounding even at face value, with Globalport needing to solve not just the Aces’ tight-lidded defensive pressure but also their disciplined, well-spread scoring.

Enough? Not quite.

Waxing mythical after the game, Alaska coach Alex Compton spoke of “cutting off one of the heads of the Hydra to make life easier for us”, referring to the many-headed serpent in Greek mythology and alluding to Stanley Pringle’s early foul trouble.

“That was intentional,” Compton said of forcing the bearded Pringle to the bench on key stretches in the first half. Pringle managed to reach 33 minutes and 16 points but was so burdened that he got off just 10 shots with three turnovers and never had a feel from 3-point range (1 of 3).

With Pringle contained, the Aces, picking their poison, were able to allow the explosive Terrence Romeo to frolic, with the former Far Eastern U standout finishing with 33 points on 2 of 10 shooting from the perimeter and 7 of 15 from beyond the arc.

But that can’t happen in this series where only a full-headed Hydra has a shot at slaying the Aces.
On New Year’s Day, Compton offered an intriguing thought.

Compton told Tempo-Bulletin, “I think what people miss out on and forget is how good Joseph and JWash are,” he said, referring to veteran guard Joseph Yeo and forward Jay Washington. “I think Globalport has four legitimate stars and they’re surrounded by excellent role players who are doing their jobs very well.”

He added: “Without a question, we’ll have our hands full with this excellent Globalport team and we will need to defend them every possession all series long.”

Cone may be the master of the understatement, but Compton is the form’s brightest student. And if Globalport swallows this premise hook, line and sinker and curtails Romeo and Pringle to accommodate Yeo and Washington, all four similarly offense-minded players, the Batang Pier could end up in even bigger trouble, with their dynamic backcourt duo sulking over reduced shots and touches.

And for the record, Yeo and Washington had their minutes that Nov. 20 evening – 24 and 27 respectively. But the Ninja shot 2 of 10 from the floor and JWash fared none the better with 3 of 11 although he did grab a game-high 12 rebounds.

A strong, 48-minute defensive strategy, not so much as off-the-roof individual scoring, will be the Batang Pier’s best chance of turning their unprecedented foray into the semis into a memorable experience. Having eight Alaska players deliver double figures had to be downright unacceptable to the Mikee Romero franchise.

If it is to have a shot at accomplishing the improbable, Globalport has to rise to the challenge and prove itself worthy of a historic first. Alaska, after all, will be there partly just for the workout – no matter how many times Alex Compton references Homer.

Up to the Batang Pier, therefore, to make the Aces sweat a little more than they want to.