By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE semifinal round of the PBA Philippine Cup begins today with the pairing between second-seeded Rain or Shine (ROS) Elasto Painters and sixth seeds Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok kicking things off at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
A best-of-seven affair, Rain or Shine and Magnolia tussle in their scheduled 7 p.m. Game One encounter looking to take early control of the series and pad their push to make it to the finals of the season-opening Philippine Basketball Association tournament.
Rain or Shine as the second seed after the elimination round had a twice-to-beat advantage in the quarterfinals but saw no need to use it as they eliminated the Northport Batang Pier at the first instance, 91-85, on April 7.
Magnolia, meanwhile, survived a best-of-three quarterfinal series with the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Kings that went the full distance, completing a comeback from being down a game in the series with an 85-72 victory in the rubber match Game Three on Wednesday.
Leading the way for the Elasto Painters is James Yap, the former star player of Magnolia, who is averaging a team-high 14.7 points per game.
Maverick Ahanmisi has been good for 12.1 points while Norbert Torres and Beau Belga are adding 9.1 and 8.6 points, respectively, for Rain or Shine.
Over at the Hotshots, Paul Lee and Ian Sangalang led their team against a loaded Barangay Ginebra team in the previous round, with the former averaging 17.7 points in the three games and the latter good for 15 points per game in the series.
Also stepping for the Hotshots were Jio Jalalon, Mark Barroca, Robbie Herndon and Aldrech Ramos.
While they are the higher-seeded squad, Rain or Shine knows that in the semifinals it will be an equal field and that it has to adjust accordingly to what Magnolia will throw at them, in particular on defense.
“We have to attack their pressure defense. They did a good job dictating the tempo of the game against Ginebra. If we can limit our turnovers and limit their points, I think we can be able to pull off a win,” Rain or Shine coach Caloy Garcia was quoted as saying by the official PBA Website heading into Game One.
For the Hotshots, they hope to continue what they did well against Barangay Ginebra in what they expect to be another tough grind against Rain or Shine in the semifinals.
“It’s all about our grit and will that carried us past Ginebra. Now it’s the start of another tough series versus the No. 2 team (Rain or Shine), and we need to be more determined, have that consistent effort, defensive mindset and the desire to win,” Magnolia coach Chito Victolero said of his team.
In their lone encounter in the Philippine Cup eliminations, Rain or Shine edged Magnolia, 75-74, on Feb. 13.
Mr. Yap starred in said game, finishing with a game-high 18 points, including a huge three-pointer for the Elasto Painters down the stretch.
Meanwhile, the other semifinal pairing will see number one team Phoenix Pulse Fuel Masters against number five and defending champions San Miguel Beermen.
Their best-of-seven semifinals begin on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.