The PBA Commissioner’s Cup is moving to the Semifinals stage. The match-ups are set, the final four teams have advanced. For the first time since the BEERacle Run of 2016, the San Miguel Beermen will be facing the Alaska Aces in a Playoff match-up. Who you got? The defending champion Beermen or the second-seeded Aces?
Karlo Lovenia: If we can describe the Beermen of this Commissioner’s Cup in one phrase, it can be with this: the deadliest 6th seed ever.
By all accounts, the Beermen deserve to be in such a position. They started out terribly, going 0-3 while trying to mesh in a number of key pieces. Guard play was a bit erratic. Even June Mar Fajardo, as unstoppable as he was, did not look comfortable with how things were turning out for the Beermen. Losing their third straight game versus Alaska by a Vic Manuel buzzer beater should have been the death blow to the Beermen this conference.
Except it wasn’t. What fans failed to realize in that game was the different dynamic Renaldo Balkman brought to the table a particular skill set Troy Gillenwater did not have. He had an excellent motor, the kind that could either be fit for any kind of player. He’s always thrived as a role player. But versus his first meeting with Alaska, he used that motor to take over the game albeit off a loss. It was a good thing to build off: the versatile dominance of Renaldo Balkman.
Since then, the Beermen have fed off that and have marginally improved every game. Christian Standhardinger injury and all, the Beermen have looked terrifying.
Fajardo looks far more comfortable, with no one in the league close to stopping him by any means. Guard play has picked up, with the ball moving around as well as ever. Arwind Santos has been splendid as a combo forward, spotting up well for threes and defending multiple positions well. Kelly Nabong has been a terrific mid-conference pickup, providing energy, grit and shooting to complement the greatness of SMB’s stars. If 23 point leads can’t bury the Beermen, what can?
Here’s the scary thing: the Beermen continue to get better. They continue to find various ways to blend the otherworldly individual talent that they have into one championship caliber unit. Alaska is a tough nut to break, no doubt about it. But I wouldn’t bet against the Beermen at this point. After looking dead for the first three games, the Beermen have emerged, risen and have looked ready to Tombstone Piledriver anyone who goes against their path. They’re the 6th seed, but they’re the type you wouldn’t want to face.
Aljo Dolores: If you think SMB has this series on the bag, you better think again.
It’s true that San Miguel is the stronger lineup on paper. Even without Christian Standhardinger, the Beermen have reigning 4-time MVP June Mar Fajardo, former NBA player Renaldo Balkman, Mythical Five members Chris Ross, Alex Cabagnot and Arwind Santos, and former Gilas sharpshooter Marcio Lassiter.
San Miguel’s lineup poses a ton of matchup problems for Alaska. Even with Diamon Simpson’s return and Vic Manuel’s emergence, the Aces will still be overwhelmed by the Beermen’s collection of stars. They are still the underdogs of the semis matchup, especially without Calvin Abueva. But this is not some poker game where a strong hand always beats the weaker one. If anything, their previous outing tells us a different outcome: Alaska can beat San Miguel.
In their lone elimination-round game, the Aces squeaked past the Beermen, 105-103. Beyond the assists (23-19) and turnovers (18-20), Alaska was evidently the more cohesive unit between the two. Even if they won because of a Vic Manuel last-second attempt, the Aces showed that better team play can be used to beat stronger teams like SMB. Looking closely at the game, Alaska did more than just show a more cohesive play. The Aces perfectly highlighted keys to defeating San Miguel: long rotations and rebounding.
Spreading the minutes will be a crucial factor for this series. Bench points from the last game was close (48-40), but bulk of Beermen’s output came from Arwind and Christian. It doesn’t reflect Coach Alex’s huge rotation, which had 11 players with at least eight minutes of action on the court (as opposed to SMB’s 8).
It’s normal for teams to tighten the rotation during playoffs. Coach Leo most certainly will. However, I think the Aces should continue fielding more than eight players throughout the game. This would keep legs fresh as they try to defend the Beermen’s all-star caliber lineups. This would also give them a chance to spread the scoring output against a much stronger offense in San Miguel.
Alaska must also dominate the rebounds to beat SMB, especially on the offensive end. The Aces don’t possess as much firepower as San Miguel. They are expected to miss more shots than SMB. To make up for it, they have to crash the boards really hard.
In their previous matchup, Alaska missed 60 shot attempts. However, they recovered almost half of the misses with 25 offensive rebounds (San Miguel had 10). As such, they took the lead in second chance points, 27-13. Alaska did not rely on just one or two players to clean the glass for the team. Eleven players grabbed at least one rebound for the Aces, nine of which had at least one offensive rebound.
Maybe you’re thinking that it’s just one game, that it won’t happen again. But no matter how much you downplay Alaska’s chances this series, the fact remains that this team defeated San Miguel this conference. If there’s a team that can do that three more times in the next two weeks, it’s them. And by sticking to their ‘We Not Me’ approach, the Aces can certainly pull off an upset against the defending champions.
Photos from PBA.ph