The 2018 PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals match-up between San Miguel and Barangay Ginebra was highly unlikely given how they fared during the eliminations.
The Gin Kings languished at 1-5 before going on a five-game win streak to settle for the fifth seed. Meanwhile, the Beermen lost its first three games before posting an identical 6-5 record that is good for sixth place due to lower quotient.
That plot twist made the elimination round of the tournament look interesting. Surprising teams went on to top the standings while imports demonstrated monumental performances on the hard court. Before the second conference of the 43rd PBA season comes to a close, let us look back at the jaw-dropping stat lines that reinforcements from every team registered during the classification stage.
Antonio Campbell – 40 points, 20 rebounds, five assists, two blocks one steal (April 27 overtime loss versus Rain or Shine, 103-109)
I still wonder how the Aces would have fared if Campbell did not pursue his NBA dream. However, the fact that he got a Summer League invitation shows how impressive he has been for coach Alex Compton. He did not waste time in introducing himself to PBA fans as shown by that opening day act against the Elasto Painters. It is only one of two losses that the wards of Coach Caloy Garcia have suffered during the eliminations.
Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings
Justin Brownlee – 23 points, 22 rebounds, seven assists (June 9 win versus NLEX, 93-85)
The resident Ginebra import did have two 30-point games during the Commissioner’s Cup eliminations, but this is his most impressive performance because of the 22 rebounds and because this game at the Ibalong Centrum for Recreation salvaged their conference. The victory against the Road Warriors was the first of their five-game win streak to squeak into the quarterfinals.
Jarrid Famous – 41 points, 22 rebounds, two steals, one assist (May 2 loss against GlobalPort, 117-106)
It was a conference to forget for the Elite. Aside from the firing of Leo Isaac, they only won one out of 11 games. Even the victory is unimpressive for it was a two-point survival against the Magnolia Hotshots. Still, the dismal Commissioner’s Cup is not devoid of an impressive individual performance such as Famous’ display against the Batang Pier. But if you read between the lines, that one assist is an indication that he was looking to score because the team is in disarray.
John Fields – 29 points, 26 rebounds, six assists, one steal, one block (June 10 victory over Phoenix, 115-107)
The replacement for C.J. Aiken did have a 39-point game against the Aces as well as a 34-point, 20-rebound performance against the TNT Katropa. But I’d take his highest rebounding output since he only had two minutes of rest for the entire game. Fields was able to collect 29 points on 10-16 field goal shooting and converted nine of 12 free throw attempts.
But just like Famous, the local support of the Dyip was not enough to sustain their campaign through the playoffs.
GlobalPort Batang Pier
Malcolm White – 27 points, 17 rebounds, two blocks, one assist (April 27 win against Meralco, 86-85)
White had the luxury of having teammates such as Stanley Pringle and Sean Anthony who can carry the offensive load. Even though he never had a 30-point game during the conference, he was still a reliable piece for coach Pido Jarencio. The import made 13 out of 19 shots while making only one of two free throw attempts.
However, what will be remembered about GlobalPort is how they nearly became the third team in PBA history to eliminate the top seed in the quarterfinals.
Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok
Vernon Macklin – 25 points, 17 rebounds, three assists (May 6 loss versus Phoenix, 87-89)
The Hotshots had a 3-1 record coming into the All-Star break. But since then, a revolving door of imports ensued as Macklin left Magnolia to play in China on a guaranteed deal. Replacement Curtis Kelly was unimpressive especially on offense, while Justin Jackson was just a slight upgrade whose free-throw woes were highly documented. Wayne Chism played the last two games before ending their conference with a quarterfinal loss to Alaska. Macklin’s pedestrian performance is the best that all of the imports mentioned can muster.
Arinze Onuaku – 30 points, 19 rebounds, six assists, four blocks, three steals (April 25 win over Columbian, 116-103)
Onuaku is one of only three wire-to-wire imports during the Commissioner’s Cup. There is much reason to stick with their resident import after this impressive performance during the Bolts’ first game. He had an imprint on both ends of the floor and Columbian had no answer for him on offense as he missed only one out of 15 field goal attempts the entire game.
From that promising start, it’s just too bad that they fizzled towards the latter part of the conference before bowing out to the Gin Kings.
NLEX Road Warriors
Arnett Moultrie – 37 points, 17 rebounds, eight assists, four blocks, one steal (May 11 victory over Phoenix, 120-115)
Just because NLEX won two games during the Commissioner’s Cup doesn’t mean that the former Philadelphia 76er is not worthy of a call-back. Aside from Asi Taulava’s newly-found stroke from the three-point line and the emergence of Mac Tallo, Moultrie has been one of the few bright spots for Coach Yeng Guiao after losing Kevin Alas and Larry Fonacier to injury. Meanwhile, Kiefer Ravena is banned from all basketball-related activity until August 2019 after testing positive for banned substances.
Phoenix Fuel Masters
Eugene Phelps – 37 points, 23 rebounds, ten assists, two blocks, one steal (June 20 win over GlobalPort, 135-108)
Usually, Commissioner’s Cup imports dominate in points and rebounds. Therefore, Phelps’ triple-double is a rare feat. The Phoenix import raised both hands with clenched fists after RJ Jazul converted a three-point basket off his pass for assist number ten with 1:40 left in the game.
The Fuel Masters could have stolen the last quarterfinal slot from the Batang Pier but lost to the Aces to finish with a 4-7 record.
Rain or Shine Elasto Painters
Reggie Johnson – 32 points, 22 rebounds, four assists, one steal, one block (April 27 overtime win over Alaska, 109-103)
Campbell’s performance was trumped by Johnson and the Elasto Painters. From day one, the bulky import has established himself as a dominant inside presence who can also stretch the defense with the occasional outside shot. In this game, Johnson converted two out of four three-point attempts. From there, Rain or Shine was able to utilize his strengths to finish as the number one team after the eliminations.
San Miguel Beermen
Renaldo Balkman – 43 points, 15 rebounds, four assists, six blocks, one steal (June 16 win over TNT, 99-94)
Though he won an ABL title with San Miguel Alab Pilipinas, his path to redemption will only be complete if he gave the Beermen a title. After losing four of their last seven games, they needed to win over the Katropa to improve their playoff hopes. The former New York Knick put on a dazzling display to register his highest single-game point total in the Commissioner’s Cup. But him hoisting the Commissioner’s Cup trophy would be a sweeter ending.
Joshua Smith – 26 points, 18 rebounds, five assists, three steals, two blocks (June 16 loss against SMB, 94-99)
Smith was no pushover during Balkman’s finest performance in the eliminations. He too filled the stat sheet with this impressive line. But as dominant as he is down low, it’s surprising that the 26 points is Smith’s highest output in the eight games that he played for the Katropa. Despite finishing with an 8-3 record, Smith’s speed disadvantage was exposed by San Miguel during the quarterfinals.