After Barangay Ginebra eliminated Phoenix Super LPG for the last remaining playoff berth, the elimination round is finally over and only eight teams remain standing in pursuit of the 2021 Philippine Cup crown.
While overall play has been inconsistent, to say the least, undoubtedly, there were a bevy of blistering battles in the single round-robin that promise to be a prelude of things to come in the playoffs. With the quarterfinals beginning on Sunday, there are a number of interesting team matchups as well as intriguing individual faceoffs that should pique every fan's interest.
Here are the can't-miss matchups for each series that may very well result in locked horns, stare downs, and one-upmanship between some of the best players in the PBA.
TNT (twice-to-beat) vs. Barangay Ginebra
First, there's top seed TNT facing defending champion Barangay Ginebra, which fell to the eighth seed and had to endure a knockout bout just to extend its title defense. On a good day, the Gin Kings will give any other team a run for its money, or perhaps even a beatdown, but TNT was as formidable as they come in the elims, where they dropped just one out of 11 games, and surely feels otherwise.
In the past, the matchup to watch would've certainly been Jayson Castro vs. Stanley Pringle. This conference though, the player TNT will pit against "Stan the Man" (17.5 ppg) will be super rookie Mikey Williams (18.4 ppg). Imagine Stan and Mikey exchanging drives to the hoop, finishing and-ones, or knocking down booming threes in succession.
It may just be one game, if TNT takes care of business, or two, if Ginebra can get it together. Either way, this faceoff at the guard position should be entertaining, to say the least.
Meralco (twice-to-beat) vs. NLEX
Second seed Meralco has the twice-to-beat advantage over NLEX. The Bolts have looked crisp as of late and seek to bounce their sister team in a quick one-and-done.
Obviously, Chris Newsome (11.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 4.4 apg) and Kevin Alas (13.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 4.2 apg) will both be at the forefront of their teams' efforts, as they lead their respective attacks. There are other veteran matchups that could entice our attention, but for this exchange between second and seventh, let's focus on a couple of youngsters who both started slowly as they felt their way through the rigors of the PBA, but ended the elims as huge contributors and are poised to make their presences felt.
Calvin Oftana (9.3 ppg) of NLEX just set the single-game rookie record for three-pointers made with eight en route to 34 big points, while Alvin Pasaol (9.7 ppg) of Meralco scored 17 of his own in that same game, then followed that up with a 15-point effort to end the elims. These collegiate studs are coming into their own, and what a time for that to happen! Can they do it in the playoffs?
Magnolia vs. Rain or Shine (best-of-three, Game 1 on Sunday, 2:00 p.m.)
The Magnolia Hotshots (third) face the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters (sixth) in a best-of-three series. This will go at least two games (of course), which will give players enough time to build up some playoff scorn and tension - the stuff interesting matchups are made of.
The potential big bang here is the encounter between "The Beast" Calvin Abueva (16 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 3 apg), the do-it-all forward (as well as center and guard) of Magnolia, and the all-purpose leader in stats across the board for RoS, Javee Mocon (12.9 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 3.8 apg).
Abueva's impact has been tremendously felt, as he has raised the Hotshots' overall level of play just by being on the floor. Mocon, on the other hand, has come into his own as an aggressive, never-back-down type of "undersized player who plays much bigger than he is" - much like Abueva. Perhaps more polished offensively than Calvin, Javee is as much a relentless rebounder as his counterpart, and he can also defend with tenacity and ferociousness to match any beastly effort. Between these two, it will be matira matibay (survival of the fittest), for sure.
By way of sidelight, wouldn't it be interesting to see who between Paul Lee (17 ppg) and Rey Nambatac (10.7 ppg) is more clutch?
San Miguel vs. NorthPort (best-of-three, Game 1 on Sunday, 4:35 p.m.)
The All-Filipino kings from 2014-19 San Miguel Beermen (fourth) will encounter upstart NorthPort Batang Pier (fifth) in the other best-of-three series. Looming large is the man-to-man in the middle between the two giants, June Mar Fajardo of SMB (11.8 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1 bpg), not quite at six-time MVP form, and Greg Slaughter of NP (16.5 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 2.3 bpg), who, whenever he was able to get on the floor in the elims, flashed some of his best numbers in what seemed like ages.
In the past clashes between these titans in the pro ranks, it was practically all JMF. However, Fajardo has exuded a bit of "vulnerability" (in quotation marks because a vulnerable June Mar is still a formidable one) in his comeback, while Slaughter has been an aggressive, almost angsty character patrolling the paint (if not the inbound pass). The Batang Pier's new slotman has swatted shots more like King Kong than Godzilla (but he is called "Gregzilla" anyway), and seems to be a man on a mission, slight injuries and illness of late notwithstanding.
From bigs, we then go to the backcourt. Robert Bolick (18.1 ppg) vs. CJ Perez (17.2 ppg) has been raging since their days waving the flags for San Beda and Lyceum, respectively, and now, they find themselves locking horns again - only, on the playoff stage and under postseason lights. Two of the most exciting and talented young backcourt stars may very well upstage the larger than life gentlemen earlier mentioned. Who says no?