PERENNIAL contenders Alaska, San Miguel Beer and Rain or Shine are back in the semifinals, but who would ever think that an upstart of a team in GlobalPort could gatecrash its way into the Final Four?
Of the four squads, the Aces earned the top seeding after the eliminations with the defending champion Beermen at no. 2 and Rain Or Shine at no. 3. The Batang Pier, seeded no. 5 after the elims, took the last spot after ousting Ginebra San Miguel, 84-83, in overtime last Sunday.
The semifinals are set to start the week after the New Year as Alaska tests the mettle of GlobalPort, while San Miguel Beer and Rain or Shine resume their rivalry. Both series will be a long best-of-seven affair.
The Aces and the Batang Pier start their duel on Jan. 4, Monday, while the Beermen and the Elasto painters begin their war the following day.
Without any major upsets in the tournament, the top three teams, Alaska, San Miguel and Rain or Shine, who had displayed consistent, high-level basketball throughout the tournament made it to the semis in relative ease, while GlobalPort, set to compete in the Top 4 stage for the first time in franchise history, is new to the semis environment but is likewise playing consistently well and has a lot of momentum on its side.
While the Aces and the Beermen, the two finalists from last season, had a comfortable path to the semis, the Painters and the Batang Pier endured tough challenges and obstacles in the quarterfinals to get to this point.
After losing its final elimination-round game against NLEX, Rain or Shine missed out on an outright semis berth and instead was forced to take a longer path.
The Elasto Painters were able to hold off playoffs’ newcomer Blackwater in a tough game in Phase One of the quarters before regaining their top form when they routed fellow powerhouse Talk ‘N Text in Phase Two to eventually reach their destination.
The route of GlobalPort was even harder.
Following its disposal of Barako Bull in the First Phase of the quarterfinals, the Batang Pier needed a game-tying basket at the end of regulation, an extra session and a favorable break in the dying seconds against Barangay Ginebra before taking a thrilling battle in Phase Two to formalize its first-ever entry to the semis.
Superstars like two-time reigning Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo, Arwind Santos, Sonny Thoss, Calvin Abueva, Jeff Chan and Gabe Norwood, among others, are constant faces in the semis, but the two most anticipated debuts in this stage are those of young superstars Terrence Romeo and Stanley Pringle of GlobalPort.
Arguably the league’s best 1-2 punch, the prolific backcourt pair of Romeo and Pringle soared to new heights this conference as they are showing the entire league that they are for real by continuously lifting the Batang Pier, who heavily relies on their leadership and heads-up play.
Rain or Shine superstar Paul Lee, who hasn’t played a single game this season after dealing with a knee injury, is also expected to make his return as the Elasto Painters are banking on him to resume his quarterbacking role against the tough Beermen.
With the cast complete and everyone aching to go, fireworks are expected once the semis kicks off next week.