THE two teams that caught fire entering the final stretch of the PLDT myDSL-PBA Philippine Cup eliminations, fittingly enough, found themselves on a collision course for the title of the season-opening conference.
Rain or Shine won seven straight games to cap off its eliminations campaign that saw the franchise end up as the second-seeded team heading into the playoffs with an 11-3 (win-loss) record.
San Mig on the other hand, started the tournament with a 1-5 card, but went on to win six of its last eight outings to finish as the No. 5 seed squad in the elims behind an even 7-7 mark.
The two took contrasting routes to the playoffs, yet still managed to find their way to the best-of-seven Finals in a rematch of their Governors Cup title duel two years ago which Rain or Shine won in seven games.
And so they’re at it again.
Rain or Shine swept its two head-to-head match-ups with San Mig in the eliminations, although coach Yeng Guiao already considers it as irrelevant.
“This is a whole new story. And the biggest mistake we could make is to think that we still have their number,” said the fiery Rain or Shine coach.
San Mig may have the bigger stars in its roster, but man for man, the two finals protagonists appear to be on more or less even as far as talent is concerned.
Championship experience is also not lacking either for the two teams, so much so that Spin.ph has decided to instead delve on the intangibles to watch out for in this Philippine Cup Finals.
Here are the five factors which may sway this series in one team's favor:
FATIGUE FACTOR – San Mig is coming off two playoffs series that both went the full route: a Game three decision over Talk 'N Text in the quarterfinals and a nerve-wracking Game Seven with Ginebra in the semis. It’s no wonder skeptics expect a flat and tired Mixers team playing in the Finals with only a little less than 24 hours of rest in between.
Rain or Shine in contrast, had the benefit of a week-long rest since eliminating fancied Petron in just five games of their best-of-seven semifinals series. The Elasto Painters were likewise hardly tested early in the playoffs after making short work of Globalport in the quarters.
Coach Yeng Guiao admitted being pleased with seeing the Mixers dragged into a do-or-die encounter by the Kings, saying how he wished their series was a best-of-15, “Para mag-ubusan na sila doon.”
The Rain or Shine mentor, however, downplayed the break his team had gotten prior to the Finals. While many may see it as a big advantage for the Elasto Painters, Guaio noted he’ll never really know until his team starts playing the Mixers in the title series.
Advantage Rain or Shine
DEPTH – Rain or Shine appears to have the major edge here with Guiao known for utilizing his entire 14-man roster every game, from regular starters Gabe Norwood to Jeff Chan to rookies Jeric Teng, Raymund Almazan, and Alex Nuyles. True enough, playing time is wisely distributed among the Elasto Painters, with no player averaging more than 30 minutes of action per outing this season.
But San Mig appeared to have narrowed down the disparity as Cone has slowly inserted in his rotation rookies Justin Melton and Ian Sangalang, both of whom did well in the playoffs especially in the semis series against Ginebra. Still, that may not be enough to overhaul the Elasto Painters' edge in this department.
Advantage Rain or Shine
HEALTH – Both teams have been dealing with health issues, although the seven-day break Rain or Shine had gotten prior to the Finals appeared to have reinvigorated hurting players Paul Lee and Beau Belga.
The Mixers, meanwhile, continue to endure injuries to stars James Yap (elbow) and Joe Devance (sprain). Yap had to play through pain for almost the entire all-Filipino conference, limiting his movement and consistency from the floor. Devance on the other hand, sprained his ankle during the semis against the Kings and has yet to fully recover.
Advantage Rain or Shine
CROWD SUPPORT – San Mig became part of history when an all-time record 24,883 fans packed the Smart-Araneta Coliseum for its knockout match against Ginebra for the right to face Rain or Shine in the Finals. Although a big part of it has something to do with the well-loved Kings, the Mixers no doubt have their own share too, of the so-called `Sixth Man,' being the second most popular ballclub in the league.
Rain or Shine, too, has gained quite a following from fans who have come to love its rugged, fighting style, but there's no doubt on who is the most popular among the two finals combatants.
Advantage San Mig
MOTIVATION – The San Mig coach is just just four wins away from becoming the winningest coach in the 39-year history of the PBA. The American mentor is currently tied with the legendary Virgilio `Baby’ Dalupan for the most number of titles with 15 each.
Cone admitted it would truly be an honor if he’ll achieve the feat, especially since he’s been openly acknowledging Dalupan as his idol. But also not lost on him is the fact that Cone hasn’t won an all-Filipino title since 2000, when he was still the man at the helm of Alaska.
Besides, he considers the Philippine Cup as the 'crown jewel’ of the pro league, stressing, “winning the All-Filipino crown means you’re the best team in the country.”
On the other hand, Guiao has failed thrice in the finals in his bid to win a first all-Filipino championship, the latest coming just a season ago when Rain or Shine was swept by Talk 'N Text in the best-of-seven title series.
And now that he’s at it again, Guiao admitted the mounting pressure of finally winning one.
“I don’t think about the pressure so much, because the more you think about it, the more you feel the pressure. We’re just looking at it day to day. I don’t want to put more pressure on myself than there already is.”
But aside from the motivation of winning an elusive all-Filipino title, Guiao, who thrives in an underdog role, is driven to spoil the San Miguel Corp. party. Guiao never fails to mention that his giant killers are the only non-SMC ballclub to make the Final Four.
Rain or Shine managed to eliminate Petron along the way, now he will up against a San Mig side which he said is 'mas mahirap na kalaban,’ as Ginebra.
“San Mig really presents a problem for us because they are more balanced than we are this conference. They have gotten better and they have gotten deeper," said Guiao.
“I also feel that what they have gone through has made them stronger. To play Ginebra in a Game Seven and win close games toughens you up for the Finals.”