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2013 Comm. Cup Quarterfinals: #4 San Mig Coffee Mixers vs #5 Meralco Bolts

April 18, 2013 11:00pm

Elimination round record:
  • San Mig Coffee 8-6
  • Meralco 7-7

Elimination round matches:
  • March 15, 2013 SMC def. Meralco 76-71
  • April 13, 2013 SMC def. Meralco 97-90

How they got here

The Meralco Bolts lost Sol Mercado in the offseason, and were pegged by many to finish at the bottom of the standings. With Mercado, whom many thought was a worthy Best Player of the Conference candidate during the All-Filipino Cup, taking his talents to the Global Port Batang Pier, not many thought the Bolts would have enough to replace their talented guard.

Instead, Chris Rose embraced the role as lead guard, becoming a top-notch facilitator and an absolute pest on defense, taking the reins of the team in a way very few could have predicted. While not the same scorer that Mercado is, his ability to breakdown defenses and enter the shaded area leads to opportunities for scorers Ronjay Buenafe and Sunday Salvacion, which they gamely embraced all conference long.

Mac Cardona also experienced a mini-revival, as we saw flashes of the brash and fearless scorer fans have grown to love (and hate) in the past. And with Eric Dawson providing numerous looks on offense and a big body on defense, Meralco overcame all the odds to finish with the fifth seed in a highly competitive conference.

[Related: San Mig Coffee Mixers vs Meralco Bolts infographic]

On the other hand, the Mixers started off their season with import Matt Rogers, and to say he was lacking in energy was putting it lightly. So they made the easy decision to replace him with THE Denzel Bowles, their beloved hero who led them to the 2012 Commissioner’s Cup title.

So did the Bowles effect instantly pay dividends for the Mixers? Not exactly. He was definitely an upgrade over the underwhelming Rogers, but lingering injuries to Bowles kept him from being as dominant right away as in last year’s campaign. But the Mixers’ talented core of PJ Simon, Marc Pingris and Joe Devance held down the fort even as James Yap struggled all conference long (13.07 points on 38.89 percent shooting), with lingering injuries and issues on and off the court.

In fact, the theme of San Mig in the elimination round was overcoming everything. Whether it was an MCL sprain to Joe Devance, ankle injuries for Pingris or lost teeth for PJ Simon, the Mixers found ways to grind out games with whoever was available on the floor. That’s what defending champs do, and that’s why they’re preparing for a quarterfinals slugfest with the Meralco Bolts.

It took a while, but Denzel Bowles (R) is slowly getting back to the dominant force he was during the 2012 Commissioner's Cup. KC Cruz

Import showdown

Eric Dawson made heads turn not only with his uncanny resemblance to Kevin Durant but also with his prolific scoring ability, ending the elimination round by leading the league in scoring (30.8 PPG).

On a team full of perimeter scorers and a great passing point guard, the Bolts adjusted and used Dawson more efficiently by letting him do his work closer to the basket. The result was two games of 50 or more points this conference, sprinkled in with other monstrous scoring outbursts.
But for all his skills in putting the ball in the basket, Dawson will have his hands full with the talented Denzel Bowles. While Bowles started the season readjusting himself to the schemes of San Mig Coffee, he finished strong, becoming an anchor for the Mixers both on offense and defense (2.08 blocks).

More than the output on the floor though, Bowles’ confidence permeated throughout the rest of his teammates, and they rallied around their leader just in time to seize the fourth seed and finish the conference strong.

[Related: from the Stands episode 52 - previewing the quarterfinals]

The X-factor

In his first conference as the clear-cut floor leader of the Mixers, Mark Barroca gave a good account of himself, putting up averages of 7.93 points, 3.43 rebounds, 3.43 assists and 2.00 steals. His methodical and patient style of orchestrating suited the Mixers, who prioritize maximizing possessions and setting up their triangle offense.

Against the Bolts, a team that likes to speed up the game and run to look for fast break treys and a streaking Dawson, Barroca’s responsibilities are great. He needs to slow down the game as well as try to contain the penetration and running game of Chris Ross. When Ross breaks down the defense, good things happen for the Bolts. It’s on Barroca to keep that from happening, with the lights shining  brightly on him.

Sunday Salvacion has been a revelation for Meralco. From starting the season with four DNPs, to making three-point buzzer beating bombs, Salvacion (9.60 points on 2.90 three-point conversions per game) has teamed up with Ronjay Buenafe to provide the outside scoring off the bench that Meralco desperately needed.

With the Mixers’ defense bound to key in on Dawson throughout the series, Salvacion will have the responsibility of being an outlet on the perimeter and keeping the defense honest.  

If the veteran Salvacion can keep up his red-hot pace, 42.65 percent from three-point distance, San Mig Coffee will need to make a tough choice whether they can afford to keep sending double-teams down low, or keeping someone on the perimeter.

Chris Ross (C) is the catalyst for the Meralco offense. Jeff Venancio

The prediction

This is going to be a slugfest. Twice these two teams have gone head-to-head together, with San Mig Coffee winning both. But they didn’t leave the arena without the scars of battle, as PJ Simon lost his two front teeth courtesy of the hyper-active rookie Cliff Hodge.

The Mixers will definitely remember this, and odds are they will find a way to counter Hodge, for better or for worse. San Mig Coffee will want to grind out this game just like the coffee it’s famous for, while Meralco will try to run, shoot a lot of outside shots and electrify the crowd.

But at the end of the day, the Mixers have the perfect mix of experience and talent on the floor to contain the pesky Bolts. As long as Pingris, Yap, Simon and Devance can overcome their lingering injuries, they should be able to advance to the next round.

No doubt, the Bolts will be physical and will push the Mixers. But the boys in blue have been through these kinds of wars many times, and have emerged victorious more often than not.

The prediction - San Mig Coffee over Meralco, 2-1. - AMD, GMA News
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