PBA Philippine Cup

A potential classic: Phoenix, TNT clash in PBA semis

Ariel Ian Clarito
A potential classic: Phoenix, TNT clash in PBA semis

NECK-AND-NECK. Expect a down-to-the-wire series between the Phoenix Fuel Masters and TNT Tropang Giga.

Photo by PBA Images

Drama between Ray Parks and Calvin Abueva aside, the semis matchup between TNT and Phoenix is one to look out for!

It looks like an even slate in the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup semifinals clash between the Phoenix Fuel Masters and the TNT Tropang Giga, which kicks off on Wednesday, November 18. 

Phoenix finished the elimination round with an 8-3 record, while TNT was a game behind with 7 wins and 4 losses.

The two teams enjoyed twice-to-beat incentives neither one really found any need for, as they disposed off their playoff opponents in one game to arrange this semifinal series.

Ball movement

Both Phoenix and TNT are high-octane offensive teams that run on systems built on selfless ball movement resulting in multiple scoring options. Both teams have 5 players each averaging in double figures. 

Phoenix was the second-most prolific team in the elimination round with an average of 100.55 points per game. TNT finished a close third with 98.64 points a game. Phoenix was third in the league in fastbreak points, scoring 10.91 points per game on transition, while TNT was 4th overall with an average of 10.64 points. 

The three-point shot was a huge part of the offensive arsenal of both teams as they led the league in attempts from beyond the arc. 

The Fuel Masters shot better by converting an average of 13.45 shots from 38 attempts, while the Tropang Giga sank 11.55 threes from close to 40 attempts per showing. TNT, however, was the better two-point shooting team, which evened out the overall shooting percentages as both teams tallied a 42% field goal clip in the elims. 

Much has been said about the Fuel Masters’ ability to move the ball around as they led the league in assists with 25.27 a game. The Tropang Giga are norming just 19.27. TNT makes up for this deficit by being the top rebounding team in the league with 19.82 a game, over 3 boards more than the Fuel Masters who are averaging 16.45. 

In their only encounter in the Philippine Cup, the Tropang Giga prevailed over the Fuel Masters, 110-91.

Key players

But more than the team numbers, what fans are probably most excited about are the various key player match-ups which are as tantalizing as they are even.

There is a debate about which gunner is the best shooter in the country right now – Matthew Wright or Roger Pogoy. We just might find out the answer in this series. The two former Gilas standouts are not only deadshot shooters but also explosive scorers. 

Wright is sinking 3.27 triples per game from 8.55 shot attempts with Pogoy not far behind with 2.36 conversions from 7.64 tries. 

Wright, who averages 22.82 points, has scored in double figures in all 12 games this conference. He has scored over 30 points in 4 games, the highest of which was a 36-point explosion in a win over Meralco. Pogoy began the conference with a 45-point eruption against Alaska. He scored over 30 points on two more occasions on his way to averaging 18.82 per ballgame. 

Another highly anticipated showdown is the one between Bobby Ray Parks and Calvin Abueva.

More than the personal grudge angle (which both players claim is now water under the bridge), this is a matchup pitting two of the most versatile wingmen in the PBA not named CJ Perez. (READ: Parks claims Abueva made up quotes in apology story)

Parks leads the league in three-point field goal accuracy with a 46% shooting clip en route to averaging 20.10 points per game – third best in the bubble. But he does more than just score. Parks is also averaging 8.2 boards per game. 

Abueva, on the other hand, is showing that he still is among the league’s best all-around performers. 

There are only two players in the bubble averaging double-doubles: 6-foot-8 Christian Standhardinger, and the Beast who with shoes on probably stands 6’3 at the most. Abueva is scoring 13.67 points to go along with 10.67 rebounds. Just as impressive in Abueva’s play is that he leads the league in assists with 6.67 a game.

The looming frontline battle will be just as exciting. Jason Perkins and Troy Rosario are two of the top inside operators in the game. Perkins is the Fuel Masters’ second offensive option and is lighting up the scoreboard with 19 points per game. He is also grabbing 9.45 boards. Rosario has not had to do a lot of heavy lifting on the offensive end but is still contributing 12.27 points and snaring 8.09 rebounds per outing.

An unlikely reunion will see former Ateneo slotmen Justin Chua and JP Erram going head-to-head at the center spot. Erram played mostly as Chua’s backup during their days in Katipunan, but both have established themselves as reliable pillars for their PBA respective teams.

Chua is averaging 13.18 points and 6.82 rebounds and is top in the league in shot blocks with 1.73 per game, while Erram has been solid for TNT with his contributions of 12.45 points and 8.45 rebounds. 

Phoenix, though, will be hard pressed to find an antidote to Jayson Castro. The reality is no team in the league probably has anyone to negate Castro one-on-one. 

Fortunately for the Fuel Masters, Coach Topex Robinson has a crack phalanx of backcourt weapons in RJ Jazul, Brian Heruela, RR Garcia, and Alex Mallari to take turns in slowing down the two-time best Asian point guard.

With the likes of Jay Washington, David Semerad, JR Reyes, and Dave Marcelo joining the frontline fray, the low block will be a bruising battle where those with intestinal fortitude will have the upperhand. 

Veterans JC Intal of Phoenix and Ryan Reyes of TNT will serve as the steadying presence for their respective teams and ensure order and composure are maintained both on and off the floor.

Phoenix and TNT might not be the most popular teams in the league, but this series is one treat fans should look forward to. 

These two teams are handled by astute tacticians – Robinson for Phoenix and Mark Dickel for TNT – who have moulded their respective teams into playing beautiful basketball. 

This semifinal series could turn out to be really close, and it has the potential to turn into a classic. – Rappler.com

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