BAD news for James Yap.
When San Mig Coffee starts its PBA Philippine Cup semifinal series against Rain or Shine on Wednesday, one player in the Painters camp who not only has had success stopping him but also has clearly gotten under the skin of the league's most famous player has been passed fit just in time to play in Game One.
Rain or Shine defensive ace Jireh Ibanes is set to return to action for the opener of the best-of-seven series after being sidelined for over a month by a fractured hand he suffered while going for a steal in the Painters' 71-62 win over Air21 on November 17 in Tubod, Lanao del Norte.
The former UP Fighting Maroon had missed the team’s last four games in the eliminations and the three-game quarterfinal series against Barangay Ginebra but, unfortunately for Yap, has been declared fit for the San Mig series.
The two have a long history of animosity that took roots during last season's Governors Cup Finals, which the Painters won in seven games. The bad blood came to a boil during the two teams' first meeting of the season last October 24 when Yap uncharacteristically lost his cool.
During that game, Ibanes' defensive tactics, which Yap later claimed bordered on the dirty, had the San Mig star being called for a technical for second motion in the first half, and later ejected from the game for a flagrant foul after he went after Ibanes on a fastbreak and tagged him with a hard foul.
Yap was still steaming after the ejection that instead of retreating to the dugout he went straight to the press room to watch the rest of the match on TV. The Painters won, 80-79, completing a comeback from an 18-point second-half deficit.
Painters coach Yeng Guiao said he’s confident Ibanes can bring the defensive energy they need against a power-packed Mixers roster, but he did not say exactly if he really timed - or rushed - Ibanes' return precisely for the series against Yap and the Mixers.
“I know he can defend because that has been his designation in the team, he’s our best defensive stopper and his assignment basically will be to guard James Yap and PJ Simon,” Guiao told Spin.ph.
Guiao however, is uncertain if Ibanes’ shooting stroke is back, since the 30-year-old Rain or Shine guard only resumed ball handling lately.
“Tingnan ko na lang sa game kung balik na siya sa kundisyon niya since late na rin siya humawak ng bola. I’m not so sure how he can handle the ball, though in practice, mukha namang okay. Pero siyempre, iba pa rin yung game,” said Guiao.
"Saka I’m not sure about his shooting stroke, so maybe, I’ll first give him about 15 minutes," he added.
The six-year PBA veteran averaged 23.4 minutes, producing 7.4 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists during his first 10 games of the conference before he got injured.