Who’s going home?

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

Either top seed TNT or No. 4 San Miguel Beer will go home from Bacolor after Game 7 of their PBA Philippine Cup best-of-seven semifinal series today. The team that wins will advance to battle Magnolia in the finals starting Wednesday. Expect a dogfight in the winner-take-all showdown where the loser packs up to leave the semi-bubble that began at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig then moved to Bacolor because of IATF safety guidelines. Its been a grueling grind from the start with health protocols requiring seven games to be postponed and several players undergoing quarantine.

But credit to the PBA for its dedication to continue the games for the fans in this pandemic. PBA commissioner Willie Marcial himself said rolling out the semi-bubble on a closed-circuit, open-environment basis has been more challenging than the Clark bubble because of certain conditions beyond anyones control. In the Clark bubble, there were isolated instances of false positives but none was confirmed, leaving a report card of zero incidence. But the PBA paid a hefty price to execute the bubble, close to P80 million. Under an uncertain business atmosphere, it was difficult to repeat the bubble.

The PBA family got together as one to push this season forward. Teams paid for their own hotels and players even offered to subsidize their food allowance. When a coach tested positive, governors went out of their way to provide assistance, regardless of team colors. Competition will always be fierce on the hardwood but off the court, the PBA has everyones back. In Pampanga, five hotels hosted the teams. Alaska was at Best Western Angeles, Blackwater and NLEX at Supia Resort Clark, Terrafirma and NorthPort at DH Luxury Villas Angeles, Rain Or Shine at Villa Adela Angeles and Barangay Ginebra, San Miguel Beer, Magnolia, TNT, Phoenix and Meralco at Quest Plus Clark. Practice venues were the Angeles University Foundation gym in Angeles, Colegio de Sebastian in San Fernando, Beverly Place Courts in Mexico and the Don Honorio Ventura State University gym in Bacolor. The tournament venue was the Ventura gym.

With added layers of protection in the semi-bubble, PBA deputy commissioner Eric Castro said safety measures were as strict as possible. “The main thing is the PBA is a huge family that looks out for each other, accountable and responsible for each other,” he said. “Managing the competition is easy because the PBA has been around for 46 years but theres an added pressure, an added greater responsibility of keeping everyone safe and healthy.” PBA technical operations official Joey Guanio said it was a “daunting taskto undertake the semi-bubble. With every Monday RT-PCR testing and every game day antigen-testing, it was always an anxious wait for the results to come in. “You never know even if were all vaccinated,” he said. For the last two teams standing, testing will continue.

Despite the hardships, the conference is now on its homestretch. In todays duel, neither TNT nor SMB has lost back-to-back. If the trend in the series holds, TNT will win Game 7 as it took Games 1, 3 and 5. But SMB was dominant in Game 6 to stay alive last Friday. The Beermen were +14 in rebounds, +5 in assists, +7 in turnover points, +22 in paint points and +10 in second chance points. On defense, SMB held RR Pogoy, Mikey Williams, Troy Rosario and Kelly Williams to a combined 11 of 48 from the floor or 22.9 percent. Both teams have won the same way. In TNTs three victories, the Tropa averaged 104.7 points and constricted SMB to 92. On the reverse, SMB averaged 105.7 points and limited TNT to 92. Defense will settle the issue and that makes for an exciting climax.

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