23 September 2016

Preview: Bolts vs Enforcers (Playoff)

Meralco Bolts
In the last ten days, the Meralco Bolts defeated the Mahindra Enforcers to claim the No. 4 spot and last twice-to-beat advantage. However, it doesn't mean anything if considering that the average margin is only 3.5 on both those games.

Having the same record of 6 wins and 5 losses means that both teams are assured to meet again regardless of who wins. The only difference is that Meralco only need to win one more, while Mahindra needs to win meet again on Saturday (24 September) to force a winner-take-all affair.

After back-to-back losses, the back-to-back wins against Mahindra was crucial for the Bolts. It was the result of strong defensive plays that could give them a strong momentum heading into the next round.

Mahindra, on the other hand, are currently caught in a quagmire. They were 6-2 at one point, leading in the team standings, but they have since lost four straight games and are in the midst of a slump. However, this could mean that there is only one way for the Mahindra to go and that is up.

There is no denying that James White was the big factor in Mahindra's resurgence this conference. He has been the darling import that many would not be surprise to see again next year no matter what happens to Mahindra this season. However, nobody can also deny that Allen Durham has been a very solid performer for the Bolts as well. White has the edge in size and length, but Durham seems to be the more versatile of the two.

Aside from White, Mahindra's success rode primarily on the performance of its veterans like KG Canaleta. He used to be a slasher with high leaping ability. Lately, Canaleta modified his game to become a deadly threat from the outside. It will be exciting to watch the veteran take his game against Meralco's promising rookie, Chris Newsome, who could be one of the most versatile guys in the league. He may not have the heft of Canaleta, but Newsome is capable of playing all four positions and has added those short jumpers among his vaunted arsenals.

Offensively, Aldrech Ramos has really improved and made his opponents pay for underestimating his accuracy from the outside. He plays the same position as Meralco's Cliff Hodge, but unlike his nemesis, Ramos can stretch the defense with his 3-point shooting while Hodge loves mixing it up down low. Ramos is more of a perimeter-based PF while Hodge likes to face up and aggressively attack defenders. It's a great contrast in styles that should be entertaining to watch, but so far, Hodge has not perform that well against Mahindra in their two games this conference.

Paolo Taha has been a key impact player for Mahindra so far this conference and are making other teams take a look at his potential more seriously. Against Meralco, he had shown more confidence and poise when matched against the smaller Jimmy Alapag. However, he had his hands full against versatile veteran wingman Jared Dillinger. Dillinger had a solid outing in the Bolts two wins against Mahindra. In the first game, Dillinger scored 12 points, including three triples, and grabbed 8 rebounds. In their second meeting, Dillinger willed Meralco's comeback from 16 points down by scoring 20 of his 22 points in the second half, including 12 in the fourth period. He highlighted his performance with four booming triples.

Jimmy Alapag may have been considered at one point as the best PGs in PBA history, but the future of the Bolts rest in the hands of their rookie, Baser Amer. In the last meeting between these two teams, Amer brought stability in the backcourt by scoring 16 points on a 66.7 percent shooting clip and 4 assists. He kept the Bolts afloat until Durham and Dillinger exploded in the fourth quarter. Amer may have the heft and size if goes against LA Revilla, but the latter has shown flashes of playmaking genius akin to what Alapag has, and that makes this a very curious match up between two prolific pointguards.

If Meralco and Mahindra players can match up point-by-point, then the only critical factor that could determine the outcome of the game will be defense. Defensive plays was a boon for the Bolts in their last game after they forced the Enforcers to commit 18 errors against their 13, and that’s one big reason they prevailed. Newsome and Durham are also very active in deflecting those deadly passes, which resulted to 7 steals for the Bolts. However, the defensive intensity had to improve more to stop the fluid ball movement of the Enforcers and clear kick-out passes that allow Mahindra to shoot a respectable 53.0 percent from the floor the whole game.

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