PBA quarterfinals preview: Aces face long road to title defense

Levi Verora
PBA quarterfinals preview: Aces face long road to title defense
Fresh off their showdown on Easter Sunday, Rappler previews the Alaska Aces vs. San Mig Coffee quarterfinals series

MANILA, Philippines – Expect triangles all over the court when the Alaska Aces and San Mig Super Coffee Mixers try to run their systems to perfection in their best-of-3 quarterfinals collision starting on Monday, April 21.

The Alaska Aces didn’t indulge in smiles or high-fives, even after demolishing the San Mig Super Coffee Mixers who were without four vital cogs, 85-66.

On Sunday, April 20, the defending Commissioner’s Cup champion Aces totally outclassed the reigning Philippine Cup champions using relentless defense and a balanced offense.

Head coach Luigi Trillo enjoyed the luxury of playing his starters for only a short while as Alaska set the tone with their dominance early on. He fielded all 15 of his troops on the list. Reserve guards Raffy Reyes (24 minutes) and Chris Exciminiano (19), rookie Ryan Buenafe (23), backup center Samigue Eman (14), and even Nic Belasco (20) all broke sweat and earned good minutes after, taking over for the win.

The starters meanwhile enjoyed the view from the sidelines, giving the younger guys instructions. There was total balance: no one scored in double digits, but all 15 scored at least 2 points.

Finding the balance is the key if Trillo wants to seal the deal for the second straight time. Alaska is very dangerous when they’re unpredictable.

JVee Casio, Sonny Thoss, Dondon Hontiveros, Cyrus Baguio, Gabby Espinas, and Calvin Abueva will all be vital for their campaign. Remember how they swept Ginebra in last year’s finals? Everyone delivered.

How about Alaska’s defense? The Aces may struggle on offense, but as long as their hounding defense shows, they will stay in the title chase for good. In their last 5 outings (all wins), the Aces limited their opponents to just 73.2 a game.

The defending champions hounded and harassed every Mixer player on every possession, forcing them to throw up unwise shots all game long. The result was a measly 66-point output for San Mig Coffee.

Multi-titled Mixers head coach Tim Cone meanwhile, endured the match minus Marc Pingris (back), James Yap (hand), Justin Melton (hand) and import James Mays (throat infection).

It will be an even more daunting task in Game 1. Yap will be back, but losing Pingris and Mays – who are both doubtful for Game 1 – while the playoffs are looming is the last thing Cone needed.

Taking away Pingris and Mays will hurt San Mig Coffee in the rebounding department. They will look hapless and be badly beaten on the glass. Pingris is averaging 5.6 caroms while Mays is the top rebounder with 15.4, including 6.4 offensive.

The Mixers rely on hustle to win. They are +4.25 in second chance points in wins and -2 in losses. They grab 52.75 rebounds in wins, and only 44.6 in losses. And Pingris is their heart and soul when it comes to these aspects.

Will guys like Rafi Reavis, Yancy De Ocampo, and Isaac Holstein carry the slack in the rebounding department? We won’t know until game time.

Who will dominate the paint without Mays around? For sure, the youthful Ian Sangalang faces that gargantuan task, but while he puts up big numbers, he won’t be able to do it alone.

Key match-up

Sonny Thoss (7.3 PPG, 7.2 RPG) vs Ian Sangalang (9.2 PPG, 5 RPG)

The 23-year-old San Mig rookie Sangalang has already proven that he is ready for showtime. He plays extremely mature and not shown a propensity to cave to pressure yet. With Pingris still day-to-day, expect the former NCAA MVP to become a force inside the paint. Sonny Thoss on the other hand, a 10-year PBA veteran, will be the focal point of Alaska’s interior defense. Both guys will play neck and neck and go as strong as they can for their respective ball clubs.


Alaska: JVee Casio

While Casio’s performance in this conference has been up and down, I expect Trillo to go to his primary point guard under clutch situations. His firepower will also be a big boost.

San Mig Coffee: PJ Simon

The ‘scoring apostle’ must live up to his monicker in this series. He should outshoot, outrun, and outplay Alaska’s gunners like Baguio, Hontiveros, and Casio.
The question

Can a depleted San Mig Coffee squad make a series out of this one?

Alaska rolled past then defending champions San Mig Coffee in last year’s semifinals to dethrone the latter. Nothing much has changed in Alaska’s system and roster while the Mixers will be missing key ingredients for this particular match-up. Although the Mixers will bring championship experience into the mix, I would like to see how they adjust given the little time.

Rappler pick

The Aces have won 5 straight matches and it is hard to imagine why they cannot deal with an incomplete San Mig crew. Call it good timing for the reigning Commissioner’s Cup titlists, but they are here to stay. Add to that, Rob Dozier is in Best Import form already, averaging 19.6 PPG and 14.5 RPG in his past 6 games, where Alaska won 5. Aces in 2. – Rappler.com

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