27 September 2016

Preview: Bolts vs Tropang Texters (Semis)

Meralco Bolts' Bench
It's down to the final four teams and its a battle between sister teams. Barangay Ginebra already took Game 1 in their best-of-five series against San Miguel, while Meralco Bolts and Talk 'N Text Tropang Texters will have their baptism later in the evening (27 September).

The Bolts and the Texters are familiar with each other than most people think mainly because they have players and coaches who have played on both sides, and that adds a lot of potentially dramatic flavor to this match up. Among these are Jimmy Alapag, Jared Dillinger, Rabeh Al-Hussaini, Jai Reyes, and, of course, coaches Norman Black and Jong Uichico.

This is the first time in history, however, that TNT and Meralco are meeting in the semifinals, and though it seems like the "deeper" Texters should march on to the Finals unperturbed, the Bolts would want nothing more than to be the one to upend their "bigger kuya" and finally move up to join the cast of elite teams in the league. If the Bolts want to be respected and honored, they have to show everyone that they could overcome their sister team in a no-holds-bar matchup.

Meralco also has a bone to pick with TNT since TNT handed Meralco their first loss of the Governor's Cup after the Bolts started with back to back wins. Meralco beat Phoenix and Alaska in succession before the Texters handed them a 98-95 loss thanks to 24 big points from Jayson Castro. For sure, Castro will be a marked man here, and guys like Chris Newsome, Cliff Hodge, Allen Durham, and Dillinger will be expected to carry much of the load on both ends for the Bolts.

Mychal Ammons may not have been around when TNT beat Meralco earlier this conference, but there is no doubt that he can match Durham's intensity and hard work in the paint. Durham struggled in that loss mainly because he was still adjusting to his face mask and will probably be looking for a payback.

Offensively, Durham is a much better import, but Ammons had been a tremendous presence on the rebounding department. It will not be surprising to see Ammons taking on Durham on the late part of the game and let the locals handle the offense.

When both Castro and Alapag played for the Texters, the latter served as a mentor to the former. Now they find themselves on opposing sides with a berth in the Finals at stake. They know each other’s moves so well, and it' ll be interesting to see what the mental chess match is going to be between them.

However, it will be to the disadvantage of Meralco if they allow Alapag take on Castro one-on-one. It may have been possible ten years ago, but with age slowing him down, Alapag will be a liability on defense. It won't be surprising to see Anjo Caram or Newsome take on Castro and try to slow him down, while Alapag is assigned to guard the other smaller player.

Aside from the battle for the Rookie of the Year (RoY) honors, Troy Rosario and Newsome will try to give their teams a boost coming off the bench. Ryan Reyes and Dillinger, on the other hand, are expected to provide the veteran leadership for the second unit. All four players provide youth, athleticism, experience, versatility and depth for both teams and could well be the big difference on this series. It will be interesting to see how they adjust and help their cause as the series drags on.

Cliff Hodge and Ranidel De Ocampo can be considered as the two most versatile power forwards in the league right now. Both like to attack facing the basket, with De Ocampo specializing in hitting the three and Hodge’s athleticism aiding him in being one of the strongest players not just for Meralco but for the PBA.

Scoring wise, De Ocampo had the advantage because of his ability to shoot anywhere in the court and had the experience by playing with Gilas Pilipinas. However, Hodge can offset this disadvantage with his athleticism, energy and no-nonsense hustle in the paint. The problem with Hodge is his penchant to help out in double teams and giving the man his guarding a clear shot at the basket. De Ocampo will probably have a field day shooting those threes if Hodge fails to take him seriously.

Mo Tautuaa may be as explosive as the other big guys in the league, but provides a lot of depth and muscle at the frontline for TNT together with Kelly Williams and Harvey Carey. He will probably be banging bodies most of the time with the Bolts' Reynel Hugnatan, Kelly Nabong and Bryan Faundo. It will be a bruising battle down low with a lot of physicality and taunting, but this is the semis and everyone expected no less from the designated hitmen of the league.

Meralco is currently ranked 2nd in the league in terms of assists right behind Barangay Ginebra. With guys like Alapag, Newsome, Durham and rookie Baser Amer consciously looking for ways to get their teammates good looks. It's always been the strength of the Bolts since the conference started and it is expected to be their most effective weapon when they go up against the Texters vaunted defense. The Texters, on the other hand, had the luxury of fielding different combinations against the Bolts to get those key mismatches, especially with Matt Rosser, Larry Fonacier and Asian import Mike Madanly on their roster. It is just very difficult to predict who, aside from Castro, will explode for TNT on any given night.

Because of the depth and ability to keep fresh legs on the hard court, TNT is 2nd in the league in 2-pt and 3-pt percentages as well as Fastbreak Pts. Coach Uichico’s wards are built for speed and scoring, and they will definitely put a lot of pressure on Meralco to keep up.

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