[PHOTO AT LEFT - San Miguel’s Bonbon Custodio stretches out as he drives past Burger King’s Aaron Aban while teammate Jay Washington looks on during Game Two of their semifinal series. The Whoppers won, 116-113. JUN MENDOZA MANILA, Philippines]

MANILA, JUNE 21, 2009 (STAR) By Nelson Beltran - The protagonists in the Motolite PBA Fiesta Cup Final Four start their duels anew today at the Araneta Coliseum, bracing for a more heated battle as they gun for the go-ahead win in the two separate semifinal series.

It’s San Miguel Beer versus Burger King at 4 p.m. then Ginebra San Miguel against Rain or Shine at 6:30 p.m. in the third play date of the semis.

All four teams were back in the drawing board yesterday after splitting the first two games of the best-of-seven series.

The Beermen and the Kings, the teams fancied to make the Last Dance, have fully realized their semis showdowns with the Whoppers and the Elasto Painters won’t be a walk in the park.

BK got back at San Miguel, 116-113, Friday while Rain or Shine stunned Ginebra, 101-95, Wednesday then threatened to repeat Friday.

Ginebra import David Noel admitted “we’re just lucky to pull through (in Game Two).”

San Miguel coach Siot Tanquingcen, meanwhile, does expect a tough series while ranged against BK coach Yeng Guiao with his vast experience.

Guiao and Rain or Shine mentor Caloy Garcia, on the other hand, bank on their teams’ will, determination and hard work.

The Whoppers and the Painters are aware they couldn’t simply outclass their talent-laden rivals and work to keep the game close and pull the feat off at endgame.

That’s what happened as BK and Rain or Shine pulled one over SMB and Ginebra.

“We would not win by a big margin against San Miguel. We just want to hang around and see what happens at endgame. If we hang around long enough, we would have our chance to win at endgame,” said Guiao.

“The longer the series goes, the better our chance to win it. And having won one game, our confidence is back. With our confidence back, I think we can play better the next game,” Guiao added.

“Despite a depleted lineup, we’re still hopeful we can compete. We just need to help each other and gut it out on the floor,” said Garcia.

Ginebra coach Jong Uichico said they’ve yet to figure out what is the Painters doing.

“It’s hard to explain we’re dominating the game but we just couldn’t put them away,” said Uichico.

“They just kept on coming back. They would hit timely shots when we’re trying to blow the game open. We have to get over this,” Uichico added.

PBA FIESTA: Dogfights in semifinals SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin Henson Updated June 21, 2009 12:00 AM

From all indications, it looks like the two best-of-7 semifinal series in the PBA Fiesta Conference will go down to the wire with all four contenders expected to play to the max in bidding to join the Last Dance.

Friday’s games were both humdingers, an indication that fans are in for a pair of long-drawn, fiercely fought series. Barangay Ginebra-Rain Or Shine and Burger King-San Miguel Beer are now tied at a win apiece, with the logjam breakers set at the Araneta Coliseum today.

The Elasto Painters drew first blood last Wednesday, taking a 101-95 decision as coach Caloy Garcia’s troops passed a severe test of character with flying colors. In their previous meeting, Ginebra swamped Rain Or Shine by 43 and because of the lopsided outcome, fans thought the Elasto Painters would just roll over and die in the semis, content to have gone so far.

But Garcia said he reached out to his players and challenged them to prove they’re made of tough stuff, too.

“I told them that we can make it to the Finals as long as we don’t forget how we got this far through hard work and sticking together,” he said.

For a young team like Rain Or Shine, the danger is players might be satisfied with reaching the semifinals – which by the way, was a franchise first. Garcia, however, dispelled the notion.

* * * *

In Game 1, Rain Or Shine proved tougher down the stretch, posting a come-from-behind win, 101-95. Rob Wainwright, the league’s eighth oldest player at 35 (after Olsen Racela, Jeffrey Cariaso, Marlou Aquino, Asi Taulava, Rodney Santos, Nic Belasco and Dennis Espino, in that order), erupted for 20 points, including 18 in the second half, to lead the late charge. Brandishing a brand-new moniker “The Silencer,” Wainwright continued his hot playoff streak and wreaked havoc on Ginebra’s zone defense with his perimeter sniping.

But Garcia said what did the trick was the way Rain Or Shine defended Ginebra import David Noel.

“We put a small guy on Noel because we wanted him to play inside,” said Garcia. “We know Noel has no post-up or inside game. He’s deadlier from the perimeter or attacking from the outside. We did a good job of taking away his strengths.”

In Game 2 last Friday, the Kings leaned on Noel’s late heroics to pull off a 103-98 decision. Noel stole from Don Dulay, raced in for a transition dunk then drained a triple in the dying seconds to seal the deal. He finished with 24 points, including 10 in the fourth period. Jay-Jay Helterbrand feasted on T. Y. Tang for 34 points but was held to zero in the last quarter by Gabe Norwood. A last-second breakaway layup could’ve given Helterbrand a new career-high but he blew it. Helterbrand’s career-high remains 35 points.

Eric Menk’s loss has been telling. The word is he won’t be back in uniform until Game 4 on Wednesday, if at all. Menk is nursing a calf injury. Without a low post threat, Ginebra is putty in Rain Or Shine’s hands – especially since Noel isn’t an inside operator. It was different in the last Fiesta Conference which Ginebra won with 7-1 Chris Alexander taking care of the interior. Now, there’s a height limit for imports and without Menk, the Kings are hard pressed to control the boards. In Game 1, Rain Or Shine had more rebounds, 52-44 and in Game 2, it was the same story, 49-38.

Without an imposing inside presence, Ginebra coach Joseph Uichico is hoping his three-guard formation will carry the load for the Kings in terms of defense (the full-court pressure and the halfcourt trap are cornerstones) and offense (outside shooting, dribble-penetrations and transition baskets are key).

* * * *

The San Miguel Beer-Burger King series is just as exciting. In Game 1, Whoppers coach Yeng Guiao decided to throw in the towel as early as the third period when things just wouldn’t turn right. San Miguel won in a blowout, 102-87.

A clever strategist, Guiao probably wanted San Miguel coach Siot Tanquingcen to think the series will be a walk in the park. Arwind Santos, averaging 17 points in 30 minutes, scored only five in 20 and tired out quickly defending Gabe Freeman. Guiao noticed the Beermen repeatedly doubled Shawn Daniels at the post and thought of doing something different in Game 2 to counter the trick.

Sure enough, Guiao came up with major adjustments in Game 2. He changed his entire local starting cast. Santos never defended Freeman, allowing him to concentrate on offense and taking advantage of his length in defense (he had three steals compared to zero in Game 1). Daniels hardly posted up and was doubled on the low block only once the entire Game 2. Guiao worked high-lows with Daniels on top to put pressure on Freeman as the last line defender. But the biggest adjustment was Burger King’s early intimidating statement that the Whoppers would play physical and not allow easy baskets.

Within the first quarter, Burger King was whistled for a flagrant two (Erick Rodriguez struck Freeman in the face with a closed fist on the backhand - he will be suspended in Game 3) and a flagrant one (Beau Belga hacked Freeman with his arm on the shoulder). The message was clear. It would be a long and punishing night for San Miguel.

After falling behind by 16, the Beermen slowly regrouped behind Freeman, Dondon Hontiveros, Mike Cortez and Bonbon Custodio in the payoff period. Burger King led, 114-113, with 14 ticks to go when Tanquingcen decided to take three straight timeouts at a single stretch. When play was resumed, the Beermen went for an outside shot and missed. The Whoppers hit two free throws and San Miguel got back the ball with 2.8 seconds left. But alas, San Miguel had no timeouts left and from an endline inbounds, it was next to impossible to score again. If San Miguel had a timeout remaining, it would’ve advanced the inbounds to quartercourt and gotten off a good shot within 2.8 seconds. Burger King held on to prevail, 116-113.

Game 2 was a complete reversal of Game 1. San Miguel had more turnover points, 24-10, and less turnovers, 18-23, in the opener. Burger King scored more turnover points, 26-13, and committed less errors, 17-21, in Game 2. Daniels hit a conference-high 29 points, despite hardly posting up, and Santos delivered 22. In Game 1, Daniels shot 12.

A big crowd is expected to witness the two tiebreakers at the Big Dome today.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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