A SEVEN-GAME series is always an extended test.
Whether it’s in the NBA, PBA or Major League baseball, a race to win four games dares coaches and players to stay mentally tough and focused to withstand the unpredictable swings of a series.
It will never happen but I have often wondered what it would be like if the UAAP or the NCAA decided to have a best-of-seven or five games for its finals rather than its best-of-three format. A longer series would no doubt be a box office hit but the other important facets of school life would surely suffer. The best-of-three is ideal for the school context.
But back to a seven-game series. In the current PBA Philippine Cup, the semifinals are being played with this format with the winning teams moving into another best-of-seven finale. Commissioner Chito Salud’s input during his watch was to have more playoff games after a lightning quick elimination round. For sure, fans watch the playoffs and finals more keenly than the elimination games.
This contrasts to previous league mindsets that believed that a longer classification round, usually a double round robin whirl, would give more exposure, especially to the lesser lights of the PBA. The weaker teams would at least get some dividends out of participating even if they get trounced by the fancied squads.
True enough, interest escalates in the playoffs and with the way things are going in the two semifinal matches, the dramatis personae are constantly making adjustments in the following areas:
Strategy. In the first game, both sides resorted to what they’d been doing well so far. In the Rain or Shine-San Mig Coffee series, the Elasto Painters played their tough defense and scored from afar to win, 91-83.
In the post-game conference after Game 2, Mixers coach Tim Cone felt he was out-coached in the first duel. He improved his team’s spacing in the second encounter that allowed James Yap to rediscover his perimeter shooting hand. The Mixers won handily, 106-82.
Motivation. Will and energy are critical intangibles in a long series. Alaska mentor Luigi Trillo knew that they could not outgun Talk ‘N Text but they could play a game with a tempo that could give them a chance to win. The Aces narrowly lost Game 1 but found their range in the second game to win, 100-88. Trillo gave his team a concept that it could hang on to.
Guiao’s Game 3 halftime speech to his Elasto Painters was appropriate for the season. He wanted his team to win that Christmas Day to give their families, fans and believers a great present. Rain or Shine won with excellent ball movement and better personnel fluidity on the floor.
Physicality. Together with “athleticism,” physicality has crept into our sports lingo. The term is associated with the level of banging or contact in a basketball game. It is to be expected because defenses are stickier and tighter in a seven-game haul.
One can only speculate on the degree of physicality the Alaska-TNT series will escalate to given the tempers that flared in Game 3. TNT’s Norman Black and Trillo know that if their teams lose their concentration because of the blood that was spilled in that game, it could be detrimental to their campaigns. The coaches know that this is a series even if it is won one game at a time.