October 8, 2009

The race to the finish

Advisory: No Game 3 updates today on this blog. Sorry.

I could've bombarded the introduction with a ton of "finish line" metaphors, but since everyone uses that I won't do it. So, we'd just go to the nitty-gritty of Game 3 of the Finals series between Ateneo and UE.

Ateneo is shooting for dominance. UE is shooting for redemption. Either way, the race will end bitterly for one team (heh, sorry can't resist).

Now people have been drawing parallels between now and what happened to 2006. Like the third seed UST beating Ateneo in overtime in Game 3, after blowing them out in Game 2, and suffering a heartbreaker thanks to Ford "Guess where am I now" Arao.

But there is one significant difference: UST then had Jervy Cruz. This year, UE has no player a la Jervy Cruz, and Ateneo has one, and is probably (over-)hyped better. Another difference is that UST beat Ateneo in the elimination round, in 2006 the Tigers outlasted Ateneo in overtime, after the Eagles gang raped the Tigers in the first round. But then again, the results of the elimination round are reduced to mere stats once the playoffs rolls along.

Now since everybody is now an armchair coach at this time, and with the likes of TJ Manotoc telling us what coach Norman Black has to do, instead of doing the usual on what both teams should do, here are the top ten things us fans have to watch out for, which practically evolves into what the two teams should do anyway:

10. UE's interior defense
UE has a underrated interior defense, and deservingly so. Ateneo's bigs have been pounding the paint since the series started; Rabeh al-Hussaini has top scored Ateneo for the first two games.

9. Ateneo's perimeter defense
Unlike, UE's interior defense, Black has more weapons at his disposal to guard UE's shooting from beyond the arc. Kirk Long and Ryan Buenafe can guard any UE guard man-t0-man and the Warriors will be swallowed alive, but what keeps Ateneo from a complete perimeter lockdown is that they fail to close out once they double in the inside. Which brings me to...

8. UE's slashing offense
Paul Lee and Pari Llagas can penetrate a la Hayden Kho all day. It doesn't matter if Rabeh and Baclao have a field day blocking those shots; they'll continue it no matter what happens. Now instead of allowing penetrations, Ateneo just might have to try out the zone, especially if UE can't shoot the lights out from the perimeter. Or they can deny the ball from the slashers.

7. Paul Lee vs. Eric Salamat showdown
For some reason, these two guys always come off the bench, so the middle of the first quarter will be the turning point for these two teams. If the two players come out with guns a blazing, the next chip falls to...

6. The supporting cast
Val Acuna has been the X-factor in the playoffs. He scores plenty in the first half and fades away in the second half to let the Warriors big-time players take control. If UE's supporting cast fails to deliver on their first appearance on court, UE's main men will lose steam and Ateneo can take advantage.

5. Elmer Espiritu's priorities
Elmer Espiritu is one of the top shot blockers of the league, but if he devotes all of his energy to defense, he might ran out of gas for offense (compare Games 1 and 2). If Espiritu can pace himself in the game, UE has a big chance of winning the crown.

4. UE's passing game
Coach Lawrence Chongson's coaching philosophy is the motion offense. Yes folks, he has a philosophy, and thar philosophy is good enough for a third seed, a semifinals win, and at least 1 win in the Finals. The thing is the Warriors might tire themselves out in such a system, and especially if Ateneo starts running the break from their misses, they'll lose energy by the time the pep squads perform.

3. The Jai-namite
It's Nobel Prize season, and what better way to celebrate by christening Jai Reyes as "Jai-namite." Heck, it's better than Badjie "Ako ang Tunay na King Eagle" del Rosario. Hell and high water (literally) seems nothing to this young daddy, and his clutch shooting will be pivotal if the game is close. If he converts those jumpers, it'll be like 2005 JV Casio all over again.

2. Tiff Atendido's hair
UE's performance is directly proportional to the amount of hair Tiff lets out. So if you want UE to win, pray the her hairdresser makes an afro out of her hair.

1. The Boom and TJ Show
These two guys have been commentating the first two games of the series, with Game 3 almost certain that the panel will be these two people again. And while TJ may have the technical know-how in basketball, and may perhaps get the point straight, Boom has been a tough nut to crack. And by tough nut I mean tough "Even diamonds can break this nut's shell" nut. Or "I wanna kick him in the nuts if only me or my TV is trashed"

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