THE MARQUEE “Manila Clasico” version of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) will be in full display beginning today as the Star Hotshots and Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Kings tangle in Game One of their best-of-seven Philippine Cup semifinals at 7 p.m. at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Forged after the Kings completed a sweep of the higher-seeded Alaska Aces in their quarterfinal pairing, the local pro league’s two popular teams try to outduel each other and take their respective title bids deeper.
Star enters the final four as the hottest team in the league, winning its last five games and in dominating fashion at that, beating its opponent by an average winning margin of 25 points.
The last two wins of the Hotshots came at the expense of the Phoenix Petroleum Fuel Masters, whom they swept in their best-of-three quarterfinal series.
Scorching hot as it is, Star is mindful not to get ahead of itself, knowing bigger battles lie ahead.
“I think the players know that our work is still cut out for us, especially the veterans. I just told them to respect the game and not to take things for granted whoever we are facing. Complacency is not so much a concern for us as I believe the streak that we have has only made us more aggressive,” said Star coach Chito Victolero, who is coaching in his first semifinals as a PBA coach.
Allein Maliksi and Paul Lee are pacing the Hotshots with 15.4 and 15.2 points per game, respectively, while Mr. Lee is also adding 4.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists.
Veteran Star big man Marc Pingris, meanwhile, has been good for 8.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in the Philippine Cup.
Booking a semifinal seat just last Tuesday, Barangay Ginebra was given little turnaround time for the semifinals. It is something it said was not too much of a concern but nonetheless it has to handle well as the series progresses in light of the tough semifinal schedule where teams have to play every other day.
“Good thing we have young guys and they are not going to be worn out despite the short turnaround like the other teams,” said Barangay Ginebra coach Tim Cone.
“Aljon [Mariano], Kevin [Ferrer] and Scottie [Thompson], they will be ready to go. Japeth [Aguilar] too is still young. That’s not a concern playing in Game One and Game Two of the series. What hurts you is there is no break in the series and Games Five, Six and Seven will be the concern as far as energy goes. That will be key, staying fresh and ready to go by that time,” added the winningest PBA coach in history, who incidentally led Star, playing then as San Mig Coffee, to a grand slam in the 2013-2014 PBA season.
In clinching a semifinal berth, Barangay Ginebra young guns Mariano and Ferrer stepped up big in their 108-97 rubber match win over Alaska the other day, combining for 35 points and 13 rebounds. Mr. Thompson, for his part, had a near double-double of 10 points and nine rebounds.
LA Tenorio was top man for the Kings, finishing with 31 points,
“Purefoods (Star) we know them well and they know us well, too. They have been playing great basketball of late under Coach Chito and it’s going to be an exciting seven-game Manila Clasico series,” Mr. Cone further said.
In their lone encounter in the Philippine Cup elimination round, Barangay Ginebra topped Star, 86-79.