It’s going to be a historic PBA Finals in what has been dubbed as “the battle of the independent teams”. For the first time since 2000 or after 16 years, the PBA finals won’t have a team from either the SMC or MVP group.
In this edition of 4×4, we invited former 3-time PBA champion and Coach of the Year Ryan Gregorio to join our roundtable discussion and help us break down this intriguing Finals matchup.
1. Which team has the deeper bench?
Richard Dy (FOX Sports Sr. reporter): Rain or Shine enters the Finals with a healthy roster, a sharp contrast to Alaska’s banged-up line up. JV Casio has been out of action since the start of the playoffs, while Vic Manuel, even if he returns in the Finals, may not yet be 100 percent due to his calf injury.
Eric Menk has missed Alaska’s last 2 games in the semis against Meralco.
The manpower issue could have a serious effect should the Finals series stretch to over 5 games.
So in answer to that question, Rain or Shine has the deeper bench, its players are fresh and they are no doubt, motivated to complete its unfinished business after falling short in last season’s Commissioner’s Cup Finals.
Ryan Gregorio (AVP & Head of Meralco Sports and HR Communications/3-time PBA Coach of the Year): Rain or Shine. The injuries on Casio and Manuel, 2 rotation players are huge for Alaska. ROS players are healthy.
Jerome Lagunzad (FOX Sports Sr. reporter): Obviously, Rain or Shine has a deeper bench which can it utilize to the hilt since all of the Painters are practically healthy at this point.
Enzo Flojo (hoopnut blog): Both teams are pretty deep, but I think ROS is overall much deeper. ROS is a strange team because coach Yeng constantly changes things up in terms of his starters and reserves, but outside of his core players (his usual finishing five of Henderson-Niles, Quiñahan, Chan, Norwood, and, for this conference, Cruz) he still has a very deep group of shock troopers. Alaska, on the other hand, will really anchor its reserves on Calvin Abueva, but he is so good that he can pretty much carry the bench all by his lonesome. Recently, Chris Banchero has been coming off the bench, too, and this is because of the match-ups they had with Meralco. Against ROS, I wouldn’t be surprised if Banchero also comes off the bench in some games to add more scoring sock to the second unit.
2. Whose backcourt has the edge?
Richard: Paul Lee is slowly getting into his groove, and that’s a big thanks to youngsters Jericho Cruz and Maverick Ahanmishi, along with Chris Tiu and Gabe Norwood, who have stepped up big during the playoffs.
With a slew of excellent ball handlers, I believe they are capable of neutralizing the pressing defense of Alaska.
As for Alaska, veteran RJ Jazul and Chris Banchero will have full plate as they man the backcourt. They are expected to do more on the defensive end, too.
Ping Exciminiano must also step up in the Finals. I expect him to get more playing time after averaging just 11.8 minutes in the semis.
Ryan: Rain or Shine. Paul Lee is playing better. Jericho Cruz and Ahanmisi are also producing well. For Alaska, Casio’s absence will be felt.
Jerome: Without starting playmaker JVee Casio, the Aces will definitely have their hands full in trying to contain the Painters’ young but talented backcourt. Jericho Cruz has been a big revelation so far this season while Maverick Ahanmisi continues to defy expectations. And oh, Paul Lee seems to be the Paul Lee of old–and that spells danger for the Aces.
Enzo: This one is tough given the depth on both ends, but I’ll give the slight edge to ROS for the simple reason Alaska’s backcourt isn’t complete without JV Casio. Maverick Ahanmisi and Jericho Cruz have been stepping up for the Painters, while veterans like Chris Tiu and Paul Lee have had good showings as well. Jeff Chan can spot some minutes at SG as well, and he’s always deadly. To counter this, Alaska will need RJ Jazul and Dondon Hontiveros to really wax hot from the perimeter, and guys like Banchero and Cyrus Baguio have to be extra aggressive in attacking the defense.
3. Can Gabe Norwood/Jireh Ibañes stop Calvin Abueva?
Richard: One-on-one, Calvin Abueva just can’t be shackled because the “Beast” can hurt you in many departments. Abueva’s impact goes beyond scoring because he does the little things that people don’t normally see in the stats sheet.
Rain or Shine can only neutralize Abueva’s effectiveness by gettting him into foul trouble.
Ryan: Calvin is a tough match-up. His energy and motor are exceptional. The best in the PBA. However, Gabe and Jireh are defensive minded guys. I don’t think anybody can stop Calvin, but Gabe and Jireh can slow him down.
Jerome: Gabe Norwood and Jireh Ibañes have the tools to slow down Calvin Abueva. Knowing Coach Yeng, he will try to give Abueva different looks in terms of their defense. And I wont be surprised if he uses lanky Raymund Almazan to match up with Abueva if and when the Aces play ‘small-ball.’
Enzo: I seriously think nobody can “stop” Calvin, but if anybody can maybe slow the Beast down a bit or even get him all riled up enough to commit some mental lapses, it’d be the tandem of Gabe and Jireh. Gabe has the size and athleticism to try and bother Calvin, but he doesn’t have the motor, which is where Jireh comes in. The former Fighting Maroon has enough energy to stick with Calvin on both ends.
4. Who will win the series?
Richard: It’s Rain or Shine in 6 games.
Ryan: Offense of Rain or Shine vs. Defense of Alaska.
Hunger Factor: Even.
Firepower: Rain or Shine
Bench Depth: Rain or Shine
If Alaska can keep the score below 90, they have a chance. Otherwise, I give Rain or Shine a slight edge.
Jerome: I have Rain or Shine winning this series in 6 games. With a healthier lineup that’s already motivated to win it all, the Painters seem primed to finally exorcise the ghost that’s been haunting them the past few years since topping the Governors Cup in 2012.
Enzo: I love how this series, at least on paper, looks to be tight. I am looking forward to a long Finals — at least 6 games — but, in the end, I think the team with the best player will prevail. That, of course, is Alaska. Calvin is the best local player in this series, and Rob Dozier is the better import. The Aces should take this in 6 or 7.