I spent a good part of the last quarter of 2014 stalking the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) and I got to see a lot of talented players making their moves. Once I had gotten wind that I might be relocating from Vietnam to Philippines, I started asking around with people familiar with the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) and the ABL about how ABL player X would do in the PBA. I got several answers, but there was one resounding comment:
“The PBA is a whole different league when it comes to physicality.”
I got my first taste of the PBA physicality from my viewing of Game 2 of the Philippine Cup Finals. I got pretty good seats near courtside as well so I got to see the action up close. I had courtside season tickets for the CIS Arena Saigon Heat home games, but these seats at the Smart Araneta Colosseum were quite different. Here’s how close I was:
I was so close I got to take this slow motion video of star forward, Arwind Santos, showing off his three point range.
The whole experience was awesome. Die-Hard fans show up in groups with their bighead signs and all:
The drum squads for each team were banging on their drums, keeping the cheers in rhythm.
Like I said in the previous article, if you are a fan of basketball, you cannot miss out on watching a PBA game.
The two teams came out blazing in the first quarter, with San Miguel leading 32-28 but that’s not what we want to talk about. What we want to talk about was how heated this game got and how fast it took.
It probably started with a breakaway fastbreak from Calvin Abueva (keep note of that name, he’ll keep popping up). It seemed pretty clean, but I have a feeling that Abueva felt that he was undercut by Marcio Lassiter there.
So later, with 4:12 left in the first quarter Calvin Abueva was bumped by Chris Ross on another fastbreak attempt.
This time, he retaliated.
That looks bad. Abueva got called for a technical for second motion (rightfully so) but watching this on replay just makes me wince about the pain on Ross’ knee. Thinking positively, Abueva was probably just going back to confront Ross and the poor timing lead to that collision.
However, this lead to quite a scuffle around the benches and the refs had to group together to settle things down.
Before they could do any of that though, this happened:
There you see Calvin Abueva strolling around the San Miguel Beermen bench while the refs were sorting things out (which was probably a bad decision on his part) and right there you see a little man pop out of the left corner to give Abueva an elbow nudge on the stomach.
I was as shocked when I saw this. According to various sources, this was one of the Beermen’s Ballboys. Considering Abueva’s reputation among rival teams, this Ballboy will probably be heraled a legend among fans from now on. But the real problem here is the team officials and how they solve this. Should the League have a say in this? If in the end the ballboy gets a slap on the wrist and a small fine, how is this going to be controlled? What if teams start hiring strong burly ballboys just to start attacking players if they happen to stroll near by?
The biggest question is: How entertaining is the PBA? It took barely 10 minutes into the game for all of this to start happening. I should have bought more popcorn.
One minute later, and Abueva is in the middle of another incident.
Not much physical contact there, but you can see how Arwind Santos and Calvin Abueva are in each other’s faces. And this is just for possession of the ball! The Romantic engagements between Abueva and Santos will be a regular throughout this entire Finals series.
One possesion later, guess who it is once again wrestling off with a San Miguel Beermen.
If you guessed Calvin Abueva, then you have good comprehension of this article and are correct.
Semerad is a rookie for the PBA and with his body frame, he was born to mix it up down low. This feud might have started in Game 1, where Abueva flopped his way into getting a foul on Semerad. In one of the first possessions where they matched up, Semerad made sure Abueva knew he wouldn’t need to flop this time around.
The fans start going crazy and one or two water bottles are flung onto the court, prompting the Jumbotron to show the consequences of those violations.
DO I NEED TO STILL REMIND YOU THAT THIS IS STILL THE FIRST QUARTER?
And no, that’s not all.
One minute and 26 seconds left in the first quarter and Abueva is once again pushing the ball up the court where he runs into Ronald “The Saint” Tubid, pictured below.
Quick side story: Tubid’s nickname “The Saint” comes from him being the model of the painting of Saint Pedro Calungsod. Don’t you just love the PBA?
Abueva passes the ball out while leaping to avoid full on collision, where he unfortunately meet the Ronald Tubid’s poorly timed raised elbow in places no man ever wants to. The refs are quick to call a flagrant foul and are just probably hoping to end the first quarter and get this over with.
Being a close follower of the NCAA, the Alaska Aces reminded me a lot of the Louisville Cardinals of Coach Rick Pitino. Both teams feature are great in the open court, which is mainly because they press the ball so well. The Aces rotate their guards (JVee Casio, Chris Banchero, Chris Eximiniano, and RJ Jazul) and press the hell out of the opposing teams guards starting 90 feet away from the basket. My personal favorite is Chris Eximiniano who presses with so much aggression and physicality it’s suffocating.
Of course, that kind of defense does push him into committing a lot of fouls as well.
The Aces, similar to Louisville, sometimes struggle in the half court sets however. The spacing of the Aces looks kind of awkward with Dondon Hontiveros (BANG!) being their only reliable 3 point shooter (Cyrus Baguio is good shooter, but streaky). Their go-to guy (Abueva) is more of a hustle guy who’s idea of creating a shot is barreling into the defense. Don’t get me wrong, I love Abueva and he is a star. He’s just not the kind of star that can space the floor for you.
On the other hand, the San Miguel Beerman are the premier team for the half court set. They have the most dominant big guy (June Mar Fajardo) in the middle and once he gets the ball, teams are already closing in their zones leaving plenty of breathing room for their shooters. The Beermen surround him with a plethora of players who can both shoot and penetrate the zone effectively whether it is Arwind Santos, Marcio Lassiter, Chris Lutz, Alex Cabagnot, or even Ronald Tubid on a good day.
I especially love how they use a combination of Fajardo and Lassiter to get wide open three point shots.
As I said, the zone closes in once Fajardo gets the ball, then expands out a bit once Lassiter gets set on the zone. Once Lassiter drives inside again, the zone who just barely set itself to the perimeter collapse in totally on Lassiter’s drive. Lassiter is one of the best kick-out passers I’ve seen in the PBA (though I still haven’t seen much) and the Beermen get really good looks out of this run.
These two teams trade punches at each other with their specialties and the game was in a standstill nearing the end of the 3rd quarter.
What we the odds of David Semerad playing this much a role in this game? No offense to Semerad, but he is an enforcer type of player who is sent out there to get those dirty baskets, make those hustle plays, and annoy the hell out of everyone on the other side. And that is exactly what he accomplished. But Semerad played his role so efficiently and perfectly timed that he was, in my opinion, the most important player of this match.
It started with the heated match up of Calvin Abueva and Arwind Santos in a rebounding tussle which eventually lead to Santos having to go out with a bloody head.
Samerad would come into the game for Santos and would make his presence felt when Dondon decided to launch a three pointer on the fastbreak.
I guess Dondon felt that Semerad placed a foot onto his landing, so when he fell down and Semerad turnback to box out Dondon locked up one of his feet cause both of them to be tangled up on the floot (Note: This is all just speculation from grainy footage and courtside seat perspective). This cause both benches to clear out and the tone of the game would change from there on.
The situation would be ended with a double foul (which is the correct call) and play would resume.
But Semerad was not finished.
After a couple of attempts at the basket for the Alaska Aces, they missed a shot and the Beermen got the rebound.
But Semerad would get into a tangle with Vic Manuel (whose nickname is the Muscleman) which would result in the Muscleman locking Semerad with his muscles around the neck before throwing him to the ground.
That lingering neck holding was probably unnecessary, but if it will annoy the opposing team more, Semerad will do it.
Semerad went over to hit two free throws which started his personal 6 point mini-run for the Beermen, highlighted by an impressive putback basket.
The Aces would end the quarter only 2 points behind, but the momentum of they had already lost their flow of the game. The Beermen would outscore them by 14 points in the 4th quarter.
Random Things that just needs to be brought up
- June Mar Fajardo seems like a Tim Duncan gentle giant type, but even he got caught up in the emotions of the game when he threw this big elbow at his Cebuano idol, Dondon Hontiveros, inside the post. In the end, it seems like this was more accidental than anything else, but still you can see how the emotions of the game can affect anyone.
- Santos eventually came back into the game with a band aid on his head and a vengence out for Abueva. And Abueva was prepared. Look for this feud to fuel the fire for the full length of the Finals (that’s just my excuse to use 7 “F” words in the same sentence).
- This might be a really small aspect of the game, which is why I love it so much. I love the battles on the block for the rebound during free throws. Normally in live ball situations, there’s too much movement to really focus on the beauty that is rebounding (including getting space for rebounds). Here you can see how Abueva play matador with Santos, luring him out of position for the rebound.
While some people might not want to admit it, I feel that this game probably best defines how the PBA is different from other leagues. The physicality allowed in this league is awesome and players have to learn to adapt. You can just come into this league with a physical advantage and dominate, you have to have a mental edge as well. Most importantly, whether you are a rookie or a veteran, you must know to never back down.
Which is something that rookie, David Semerad, has excelled early on.
Note to readers: I am Thai and new to the PBA, so I might have missed/left out/misunderstood some crucial points or overlooked some parts of the Filipino basketball culture. I’d like to apologize in advance for any such mistakes. If you have any suggestions and corrections for me, please do share with me as I am more than willing to understand different cultures of basketball.
Picture sources from Spin.Ph as noted with Spin.Ph water mark and also from Official PBA Atin ‘to Facebook page.
Videos cut from www.PBARECAP.org.
Recap for Game 1 can be read here.
Recap for Game 3 can be read here.