The Rematch: San Miguel defends PBA Philippine Cup title against Alaska
MANILA, Philippines – A rematch it is.
Defending champion San Miguel Beermen will stand against the hungry Alaska Aces in a best-of-7 finals series for all the marbles in the 2016 PBA Philippine Cup. (SCHEDULE: 2016 PBA Philippine Cup Finals – Alaska vs San Miguel)
Game 1 of the series tips off Sunday, January 17 at 5 pm. (LIVE BLOG: Alaska vs San Miguel – 2016 PBA Philippine Cup Finals Game 1)
How can the Aces finally defeat the dominant Beermen on their third try in a year? How will June Mar Fajardo's injury affect the complexion of this series?
Rappler answers questions surrounding the rematch between two storied franchises below.
This will be the third time in the last 4 conference Alaska and San Miguel will face in the finals, with the Beermen beating the Aces in the past two meetings. What can Alaska do to change the outcome and finally beat San Miguel?
Naveen Ganglani: Make it a track meet, and keep it that way for most of the games. A faster, more run-and-gun pace favors the Aces. The Elasto Painters, even with all their injuries, nearly took the Beermen to 7 games by playing fast – something that can help lessen the touches Fajardo will get.
With guys like Calvin Abueva, Chris Banchero, Cyrus Baguio and company, Alaska will need to push the tempo to its liking, get as many easy points as possible, and maybe even force some San Miguel turnovers.
Jane Bracher: They have to run. I would say that it's always best if Alaska sets the pace right from the start but they have a history of finding success after clawing back out of the grave.
And like all those before them, the Aces will have to pick their poison – stop June Mar Fajardo (if he plays) or stifle San Miguel's outside shooting – and give it all they've got. That harassing, suffocating Alaska defense will prove to be the team's best weapon. What's more, they have the advantage when it comes to depth. Coach Alex Compton can rely on a solid bench that exudes nothing but a "we-not-me" mentality.
And as Calvin Abueva pointed out, hunger will be play a huge role here. The Aces, wounded twice before, can be a very dangerous team with the memory of past failures to draw from. This will be a mental game for sure.
What can San Miguel do to win a 3rd time and repeat as champion?
Naveen: Pray to the basketball gods that Fajardo is back, even if not in time for Game 1, but at least even Game 3. If he’s healthy and ready to go, San Miguel will have to make the series a slower and more cerebral game. That involves a lot of post play and second chance scoring opportunities on the boards.
Moreover, San Miguel’s shooters will need to step up when Fajardo is double-teamed (if he plays). If guys like Lassiter and Santos can be dependable weapons, the Beermen should be very hard to stop.
Jane: Sometimes I feel the Beermen's firepower gets masked by the fact that they have a hulking reigning back-to-back MVP to dump the ball to. But the truth is they have decent options and they can find other ways to win. As seen in San Miguel's semifinals series versus Rain or Shine, they figured out a way to spread out the offense and ease the load off of Fajardo's shoulders.
Although they still had Fajardo scoring around the 30s then, it's that type of teamwork that can carry the Beermen. Now, with Fajardo's injury, whether he plays or not, this series fast became a test of mental strength for San Miguel. The players' minds must be in the right place. If Fajardo doesn't play, they can't keep forcing the issue and they must adjust to what is available to them. They mustn't let it bring them down, albeit that's quite hard to do.
If Fajardo plays, more than ever they need to provide support – much like in the semifinals. In any case, consistency will be key here on both sides of the ball.
How will June Mar Fajardo's injury affect this series – whether he does not play at all, can play sparingly, or can return at a later game in the series?
Naveen: If Fajardo is out an extended period of time, the only question remaining will be in how many games Alaska wins the series. If he returns to the series too late, that won’t be enough to save the Beermen as well.
Jane: The mere uncertainty over Fajardo's status in this series can already hurt San Miguel mentally. His absence altogether could be fatal (to their title retention bid, obviously). A safe, early return, even if not at a hundred percent, would be an answered prayer, but coming back too late likewise won't bode them well.
Fajardo is, after all, essentially what makes the Beermen tick and hum and roll.
Which players from both teams can tip the scale or take over this series?
Naveen: Over at San Miguel’s side, it’s Lassiter. His dominance during the Governors’ Cup Finals was the X-factor in San Miguel sweeping the series. If his shot is falling, double-teaming Fajardo becomes a riskier proposition and makes the Beermen a much more lethal offense.
For Alaska, it's Vic Manuel. He's been low-key the team's best player this conference, and his offense is the patriarch of Alaska's dangerous bench attack. His ability to score in the paint, like Fajardo, also leads to open shots outside for guys like Dondon Hontiveros and RJ Jazul.
Jane: For Alaska I think X-factors can be Ping Exciminiano and Vic Manuel. They're not much talked about but their contributions – from tangibles to the intangibles – are solid. Manuel, for one, is the team's top scorer. And Exciminiano likewise lit up in the semifinals, and his hounding defense is a huge asset.
It'll be Marcio Lassiter for San Miguel in my opinion – if he consistently lights it up from long range. I certainly would not discount Ronald Tubid as well. He's a beast everywhere on the floor when he gets going.
Naveen: If Fajardo is out for the series, Alaska in 5. If Fajardo starts playing in any of the first two games, Alaska in 6.
I believe Alaska is the team peaking at the right time. Its defense looks super solid and the offense has been explosive. Guys are familiar with each other and the team’s chemistry is even better. When it comes to depth, the Aces bench is clearly superior in this series.
Jane: I'm likewise going for Alaska in 5 sans Fajardo, and Alaska in 6 if he shows up any time in the series.
I just don't think San Miguel has a lot left in the tank against a deeper Alaska team even if they get Fajardo back. Fajardo is tired from his 40-minute average and he can't just go all out and risk aggravating that knee injury.
Also, the Aces are very determined to win this. They have the depth, the experience, the chemistry, plus an extra couple days of rest, too.
What are you thoughts on this series? Tell us in the comments section below. – Rappler.com