The dust has finally settled in the home stretch of the 2021-22 PBA Governors’ Cup, where only Barangay Ginebra and Meralco remain in the hunt for the title to end the season on a high note.
In a season where we saw the swan song of a beloved franchise and multiple upsets of higher-seeded teams, the only thing left to find out is if the Bolts can win the championship in a fourth finals clash with the Gin Kings, or if Justin Brownlee lead Ginebra to another championship while moving closer to the all-time record held by Sean Chambers.
Both teams have relied on certain strengths to get to where they are now. Here’s a quick look at the tale of the tape:
|Offensive Rating (ORTG)||112.5 (2nd)||107.2 (4th)||106.1|
|Defensive Rating (DRTG)||109.2 (10th)||103.2 (3rd)||106.1|
|Net Rating||+3.3 (4th)||+4.1 (3rd)||+0.0|
|Effective Field Goal% (eFG%)||54.5% (1st)||49.6% (5th)||49.7%|
|Offensive Rebounding% (OR%)||31.0% (1st)||30.8% (2nd)||28.4%|
|Turnover % (TOV%)||14.3% (10th)||13.5% (4th)||13.7%|
|Pace||90.4 (9th)||88.7 (12th)||91.9|
Going by the team’s statistical profile using their offensive and defensive efficiencies, along with Dean Oliver’s Four Factors, we can see that both teams are more or less on even footing heading into their seven-game series. Both teams play slow and methodical basketball, as evidenced by their below-average pace. Both teams have strong half-court offenses, which have led to their success in the postseason. Playing Brownlee, possibly the best scoring playmaker in the league, alongside terrific local playmakers and top-tier big men has resulted in the Gin Kings being an offensive juggernaut in the playoffs so far. On the other hand, coach Norman Black’s Bolts offense was hampered by the elite defense of the Magnolia Hotshots and has relied more on their defense to get to this point.
Both teams are strong in the rebounding department, featuring highly active bigs such as Cliff Hodge (3.4 offensive rebounds per game) and Japeth Aguilar (2.9 offensive rebounds per game). But the difference in their rebounding is the nature of it. Meralco relies more on their collection of good rebounders with eight players averaging at least three rebounds a night, while Ginebra relies on their four elite rebounders led by Brownlee and Scottie Thompson.
All in all, it looks like we’re in for a highly competitive series where either team could take four games from the other. The thing to watch this series is whether it’s Ginebra’s high octane offense that came alive in the postseason or Meralco’s all-around brilliance that will end up hoisting the trophy at the season’s end.
The Import Matchup
In the elimination round, Tony Bishop was a revelation for the Bolts, averaging 28.5 points, 13.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.6 steals, and 0.9 blocks on a nightly basis in 11 contests. To make it even sweeter, he scored those points at 57.6 percent True Shooting (TS%), which put him nearly five percentage points above league average. However, the script was flipped in the series against Magnolia, where his production dipped across the board. He was held to just 17.8 points per game on a putrid 43.2 TS%, nearly 10 percentage points below league average. This culminated in the do-or-die matchup where he put up eight points on 18 shots. Meralco’s great team defense shut down Bishop the whole series, and the Bolts were outscored by 20 points in the 211 minutes Bishop was on the floor in the semifinals.
On the other hand, Justin Brownlee heated up in the playoffs. In the elimination round, he normed 28.6 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per contest while shooting a blistering 63 TS%, which is 10.1 percentage points better than the league average). While these were absolutely insane numbers, Brownlee managed to top himself in the playoffs. Against the NLEX Road Warriors, he put up 33.3 points per game on 69.5-percent TS, (16.6-percent better than average). To put this in perspective, when Stephen Curry was torching the nets in 2016, he was averaging 30.1 points per game on 66.9-percent TS which was only 12.8% better than the league average. In other words, Brownlee was scoring more efficiently in the semis than Stephen Curry was in 2016 (relatively).
The seasons of these two imports have diverged since their terrific performance in the elimination round. In order for the Bolts to fend off the Gin Kings, they’ll need Tony Bishop to be on top of his game and perform at a high level.
Meralco enjoyed a ton of success early in the season off of a career conference from Allein Maliksi. The former UST guard scored at a high clip on equally high efficiency (something we’ve covered here). However, the Hotshots limited his touches and made him uncomfortable in the first four games of the series, holding him to 7.5 points per game on 50.4-percent TS. Luckily for the Bolts, he was able to return to form in the clincher and drop 24 points with six made triples.
Besides Maliksi, the Bolts employ four talented playmakers who average more than four assists per 36 minutes, namely Chris Newsome, Chris Banchero, Bong Quinto, and Anjo Caram. The passing talent doesn’t end there as Aaron Black, and Cliff Hodge, the latter ever an underrated passer, are also regular members of their rotation. This wealth in ball movement has resulted in the team being ranked third in assist rate (read: percentage of shots assisted) in the league. Coach Norman Black has a diverse playbook capable of maximizing his ball handlers without them cannibalizing each other’s touches.
The Bolts are as talented on the defensive end of the floor. Hodge and Almazan provide strong interior defense, while their collective cast of perimeter players force the fourth-most turnovers per possession in the league.
On the other hand, the Gin Kings have been a dominant force on offense, but they have been borderline bad on defense. Their offense is driven by their three-point guards, who on occasion play together in a highly potent three-guard lineup: Nard Pinto, LA Tenorio, and Scottie Thompson (Point Iskati is a real thing, by the way). Additionally, they have two of the best big man finishers in the league in Christian Standhardinger (14.4 ppg on 56.5-percent TS) and Japeth Aguilar (14.3 ppg on 61.3-percent TS), though the latter might be out for commission the rest of the way owing to a calf injury. If that’s not enough to make you think they’re dangerous on offense, you can also add a pair of shooters to the mix with Arvin Tolentino (1.7 3PM per game on 33% shooting) and Jeff Chan (1.0 3PM on 39-percent shooting).
Their three-point guards have an uncanny ability to play next to each other (something we also covered in another piece). All three are able to make something happen without pounding the air out of the ball and provide some sort of skill when they don’t have possession of the ball. Their synergy with one another makes defending very hard for the opposing team and that’s not even bringing Justin Brownlee into the equation.
Anthing Can Happen
In a seven-game series between a pair of great teams, just about anything can happen. We saw that when Meralco took on Magnolia; the Hotshots were the most dominant team in the PBA in the elimination rounds, but ended up losing a series where they outscored their opponents by 10 points in total. Both teams are talented and well-coached but operate in fundamentally different ways. The Bolts are a team that rely on their depth of talent with only two players playing more than 30 minutes per game – a great two-way team whose schemes on both ends rely on multiple players sharing a similar amount of load. Meanwhile, Ginebra is a heavily offensive team that relies greatly on its starters with four players playing more than 36 minutes per game (and three playing more than 40 minutes).
Right now, we have no way of knowing who ends up winning it all, but even now, we can definitely say that this will be a fun matchup to see due to the distinct stylistic differences between both teams and the incredible talent that will take the court. You absolutely cannot miss this one.
The games are also livestreamed on SMART Sports.