Olmin Leyba (The Philippine Star) – November 13, 2020 – 12:00am
SMART CLARK GIGA CITY, Pampanga, Philippines — After grinding through the brutal preliminaries of the PBA bubble to get to where they are, quarterfinals top seed Barangay Ginebra and No. 4 San Miguel eye the short route to the next round.
The Gin Kings, who topped the elims with an 8-3 win-loss card, and the defending champion Beermen, who barely made the Top 4, seek to cash in on their win-once incentives and finish off their lower-ranked opponents in today’s quarterfinal action at the AUF Sports Arena Powered by Smart 5G.
Coach Tim Cone and his wards go for a quick work of No. 8 Rain or Shine in their 6:45 p.m. battle while the six-peat-gunning Beermen aim for the same against the fifth-ranked Meralco Bolts in the 4 p.m. opening game.
Of course, the E-Painters and the Bolts, who also worked their butts out to reach this stage, are scheming to force their twice-to-beat rivals to a sudden death on Sunday and give themselves a fighting chance to crack the best-of-five semifinals.
For the multi titled Cone, it’s a case of putting in the work and following through after earning the top seeding.
“We understand the pressures of being No. 1. When you’re the No. 1 seed, everyone assumes you’re going to get to the finals. But that’s not always the case,” he said.
“So you gotta make sure guys understand that that’s a luxury to be No. 1 but it’s no guarantee. You got to make sure you work through it.”
SMB mentor Leo Austria, whose wards are pursuing their six-peat without June Mar Fajardo and Terrence Romeo, said it’s imperative they match the expected fire of the Bolts.
“It’s Meralco’s first time to get to the playoffs in five years so I’m expecting their intensity to be high. I’m also relying on the experience of our team at this stage, ” said Austria.
“Even though we have twice-to-beat advantage, we’ll treat it as a knockout game because that’s the same mindset Meralco is bringing to this game,” he added.
Bolts counterpart Norman Black believes this group represents the best all-Filipino lineup he’s handled in the franchise and the plan is to go all the way.
“While getting to the quarterfinals is a great start, it’s not the way to want to finish the league,” he said.
The protagonists’ main concern though is how to prep up and recharge their tired bodies given the short transition time from the grueling elims to the Last Eight.
Rain or Shine takes the court in the wake of back-to-back elims outings against TNT Tuesday and Phoenix Wednesday while Meralco also comes off a Wednesday gig versus NorthPort. Ginebra and San Miguel have relatively more breathing room after wrapping up the elims Monday and Tuesday, respectively.