The 2022 PBA Philippine Cup semifinals are set, with top seed San Miguel Beermen facing fifth seed Meralco Bolts, and second seed TNT Tropang Giga meeting third seed Magnolia Hotshots in a pair of best-of-seven series that begin on Wednesday.
Both series are interesting but different, and with that in mind, let's tackle the one burning question for each.
How will Magnolia contain TNT's Mikey Williams?
This match-up is a replay of the 2021 finals of the same conference, which the Tropang Giga won in five games for their first Philippine Cup title in nine years. In their lone elimination-round meeting, which actually opened the 2022 PBA season on June 5, TNT emerged victorious 78-72.
TNT star Mikey Williams has been turning the Philippine Cup into his personal showcase, averaging a league-high 22.3 points per contest. He actually didn't play in the June 5 game, so the Hotshots will be facing him for the first time this season.
Going by the 2021 Philippine Cup Finals, Magnolia is about to meet a recurring nightmare.
Over those five games in the Pampanga bubble, Williams torched them for 27.6 points per game on 51.6% field goal percentage, including a ridiculous 54.6% from three-point land and 68.5% true shooting percentage. He added 5.2 rebounds and 4.8 assists for good measure.
After eliminating the NLEX Road Warriors on Sunday, Magnolia coach Chito Victolero said that he wasn't afraid to put Jio Jalalon on Williams. It's not clear if this match-up will happen often, since Williams likes to play off the ball and Jalalon is usually assigned to pick up the opposing team's point guard.
But in Jalalon, Mark Barroca, and Paul Lee, the Hotshots have perhaps the best defensive guard rotation in the league that's largely responsible for a conference-best 9.5 steals per game.
The Hotshots pride themselves in their team defense, which is holding opponents to another league-best 82 points per game. This defense will be put to the test against a TNT offense that's producing 94.8 points per game on .515 true shooting percentage per RealGM -- both third-highest this conference.
What's more, the second-leading scorer in the Philippine Cup is Tropang Giga guard RR Pogoy (18.8 points per game), so TNT literally has a formidable 1-2 offensive punch. Add to the mix veteran Jayson Castro, who is chipping in 11.8 points per game on 37% three-point shooting, and that makes for a lethal three-guard rotation on offense.
In the battle of the boards, TNT -- led by Troy Rosario, Poy Erram and a rejuvenated Kelly Williams -- and Magnolia -- with Ian Sangalang, Calvin Abueva and Jackson Corpuz -- practically cancel each other out, with the Tropang Giga averaging 46.5 rebounds per game to the Hotshots' 46.1.
Victolero said Lee is still on a minutes restriction as they continue to be cautious about his balky back. "We're limiting him to around 25 minutes," he said, adding a new angle to this series.
In a long series, the team with the fresher legs will have the advantage. By the time these two teams meet on Wednesday for the series opener, TNT will have played just one game over 24 days. Over the same period, Magnolia will have played six, including two that went to overtime.
It will be interesting to see how this all plays out and if fatigue will indeed prove the difference.
Can Meralco achieve another milestone against mighty San Miguel?
Meralco is fresh off a first-ever playoff win against nemesis Barangay Ginebra.
As a reward, the Bolts will have to go through a seven-game series against the top-seeded San Miguel Beermen, who look formidable at every position. It's a daunting task, but with the Ginebra jinx finally lifted, the Bolts are setting their sights on a new goal: making their first Philippine Cup finals.
"I think the motivation for us is Meralco's never been to the finals in the All-Filipino," team captain Chris Newsome said. "I think we can use that as our motivation, is that we still have more history that we can make.
"This is one step that we were able to get over the hump against Ginebra, but there's another goal that we haven't reached either, which is getting to the finals of the All-Filipino."
The Bolts can draw inspiration from the fact that they dealt the Beermen one of their two losses in the elimination round, an 89-86 decision last July 17.
In that game, June Mar Fajardo had a solid 21-point, 12-rebound effort on 9-of-12 shooting. The rest of the Beermen, though, shot just 38%. Those 86 points were the second-lowest for SMB this conference, and 17 lower than their league-best 103.5 points per game.
It should be noted that SMB had already clinched the top seed and was missing Mo Tautuaa and Chris Ross in that game. Both are now healthy and back in harness.
Meralco interim coach Luigi Trillo is particularly concerned about the Beermen's frightening frontline, which is a big reason why SMB is the No. 1 rebounding team this conference (48.0 rpg).
"San Miguel's No. 1. They're a different animal altogether," admitted Trillo. "They have June Mar Fajardo, they have Tautuaa, they have Vic Manuel.
"Pound for pound, at one time, Tautuaa and Vic were the best post guys in the league when June Mar was injured. They're gonna be a handful. But I'm confident in our guys.
"They're gonna put up a good fight. We have guys all around who can chip in. It's gonna be different because this time it's seven games."
The Beermen's guards aren't too shabby either.
CJ Perez has finally grown comfortable in his role, while newcomer Jericho Cruz has supplied firepower off the bench. Both are averaging 17.5 and 16.9 points per game, respectively. The Bolts' Newsome (16.3 ppg) and Aaron Black (15.0 ppg) can be an equally big defensive challenge, but across the board, the Beermen are just bigger and deeper.
But write off Meralco at your own peril.
"It's gonna be a tough one, especially with their lineup," Newsome said. "Looking forward to it.
"But like I said in another interview, if you want to get to the top, you have to beat the best. San Miguel's one of the best, if not the best team in the All-Filipino, so we have to go through them to get to the finals. It's a great challenge for us.