ALASKA coach Luigi Trillo expects the intensity and physicality to move a notch higher as the Aces clash with the Meralco Bolts in Game One of their best-of-three quarterfinal showdown on Wednesday in the PBA Philippine Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Aces and Bolts, who drew split their matches in the elimination round, begin the series at 7:30 p.m.
“In the playoffs, everything’s gonna move. The execution will move up. The intensity and physicality will also move up. We expect Meralco to try to impose their will on us,” Trillo said.
Meralco whipped Alaska, 93-86 on Oct. 10, but the Aces bounced back on Nov. 28, 88-85, behind rookie No. 2 pick Calvin Abueva’s 20-point, 18-rebound effort.
The Bolts ended the elimination round as the second-best offensive team with 94 points per game, while the Aces are the third-best defensive team, limiting their opponents to just 88.5 points per contest.
Sol Mercado, the conference’s leading scorer (19.2 points) and passer (6.5 assists), holds the key to the Bolts’ run-and-gun offense, according to Trillo.
“Sol’s role is huge. He’s playing his best basketball this conference,” said Trillo. “Meralco also is a team that plays to its strength. They have the tools to force turnovers.”
Trillo said they also need to be ready to play the Bolts’ big men, who are quick to react on defense aside from having the ability to play inside.
“Cliff (Hodge), (Kelly) Nabong, (Reynel) Hugnatan and Jay-Ar (Reyes), these guys are quick. And Meralco is a better team now with these guys,” explained Trillo.
Considering that they are playing a short race-to-two series, Trillo wants his team to come out smoking from the get-go and try to seize the advantage.
On the other hand, Meralco coach Ryan Gregorio said they intend to prevent Abueva from imposing his will the same way he did during the team’s second encounter this conference.
“It’s (series) gonna be a good one. We’re really matched out well. In the second game, they won with Abueva. One key thing is how to stop Abueva. But we have added personnel to do that. Cliff Hodge, Sunday and Gilbert Bulawan probably,” explained Gregorio, whose team is ranked No. 4 entering the quarterfinals.