ROS, Magnolia start showdown
E-Painters, Hotshots won’t give an inch in best-of-7
MANILA, Philippines — It’ll be a war of attrition in the best-of-7 series between No. 2 Rain or Shine and No. 6 Magnolia in the PBA Philippine Cup semifinals starting at the Smart Araneta Coliseum tonight with the opposing coaches expecting a dog-fight where the center of attention is the switch in loyalty of stars James Yap and Paul Lee.
Yap, 37, played 12 seasons for the Magnolia franchise until his trade to Rain or Shine in October 2016, swapping places with Lee, 30, who logged five years with the Elasto Painters. They’ve both had their share of championships with Yap collecting seven and Lee, three. Yap is a four-time Finals MVP and Lee took the honor once. This conference, they’re neck-to-neck in terms of scoring as Yap is averaging 14.1 points in 12 games and Lee is hitting at a 15.1 clip in 14 outings.
Yap plays the wings and alternates at two and three while Lee moves from two to one or three depending on Magnolia coach Chito Victolero’s backcourt alignment. If the Hotshots go small, Mark Barroca and Jio Jalalon step in as the guards and Lee advances to three. Yap plays mainly three but if Rain or Shine coach Caloy Garcia wants a mismatch at the post, he drops down to two. It’s possible that at some stage in the series, Yap and Lee could go head-to-head.
In the eliminations, Rain or Shine nipped Magnolia, 75-74 in a low-scoring, defense-oriented duel where Yap tallied 18 and Lee shot 10. The Hotshots had the advantage in nearly every statistical department with more rebounds, 69-54, more assists, 17-13, less turnovers, 10-16 and more points in the paint, 28-18 but Rain or Shine’s defense limited Magnolia to only 27.8 percent from the field and that made the difference. It also helped that the Painters knocked down 11 triples compared to Magnolia’s seven.
This is their first playoff showdown since the Hotshots swept the Painters, 2-0, in the 2017 Commissioner’s Cup best-of-three quarterfinals. It’s Magnolia’s second straight Final Four appearance and sixth overall in seven conferences under Victolero. Garcia is in his second semifinals in seven conferences since taking over from Yeng Guiao as Rain or Shine coach in 2016.
Garcia said Magnolia was impressive in turning back Barangay Ginebra in the best-of-three quarterfinals. “They looked great the last two games,” he said. “It’ll be a good challenge for our guards to defend theirs. I think the backcourt match-ups will be intense because we also use lots of guards in our rotation. Experience of their guards will be an advantage with Mark and Paul playing lots of playoff games.”
Garcia said Yap will be a key figure in the series. “For sure, James will be extra motivated playing against his former team,” he said. A drawback is Raymond Almazan will continue to sit out the action with a calf strain. Almazan missed the first two games of the conference, came back to play six contests then was sidelined in the last four outings.
While Rain or Shine is coming off a five-day rest, Magnolia is reporting for work after scuttling Ginebra last Wednesday. Victolero said it’s a challenge to prepare for Rain or Shine in only a day.
Yesterday morning, Victolero said he still hadn’t finalized a gameplan for Rain or Shine. “I need to study Rain or Shine and watch their games,” he said. “Naka-focus ako sa Ginebra the last few days but will try to figure out kung ano pwede namin i-counter. Ang hirap lang kasi sa schedule is we don’t have time to rest, bakbakan agad.”
Victolero said Lee plays hard regardless of the opponent and Rain or Shine is no exception. “Si Paul naman laging motivated at inspired so I think Paul will step up big in the series,” he said. “Regarding kung defense-oriented ang series, I think ‘yun ang magiging trend because tingin ko, ‘yan ang strength ng both teams.”
For Magnolia, Victolero is hoping to erase the nightmare of a 0-3 start this conference and secure a second straight trip to the finals. For Rain or Shine, Garcia is looking to book his first ticket to the finals and the team’s second since Guiao led the Painters to the Commissioner’s Cup throne in 2016.