2021 PBA Philippine Cup Finals: TNT, Magnolia Figure in a Tight Championship Battle

The TNT Tropang Giga and the Magnolia Hotshots will face each other in a best-of-seven battle for the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup championship.

Abueva Castro PBA Finals
Original photos via PBA Images

Team Stats Comparison

TeamsOffensive RatingDefensive RatingNet RatingPace
TNT102.7 (4th)94.5 (2nd)+8.2 (1st)89.7 (4th)
Magnolia102.9 (3rd)95.8 (3rd)+7.2 (2nd)86.5 (10th)
*Numbers courtesy of Stats by Ryan on Dribble Media

Key Individual Performers

Mikey Williams, TNT: 16.2 points (8th) on 47.8% true shooting percentage, 4.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 5.2 VORP or Value Over Replacement Player (5th), 5.7 Box Creation (8th)

Calvin Abueva, Magnolia: 15.2 points on 52.5% true shooting percentage, 10.0 rebounds (4th), 9.4 VORP (1st), 2.4 DBPM or Defensive Box Plus-Minus (6th)

How is Paul Lee’s bothersome shoulder?

There’s no doubt that Magnolia star Paul Lee is still feeling the effects of the shoulder injury he sustained in Game 3 of their semifinals series against the Meralco Bolts. In the first three games of that series, Lee averaged 21.0 points on a decent 45% shooting from the field. However, his production drastically dipped from Games 4 through 6, as he only put up 8.7 points on a lowly 20% shooting. 

Despite Lee’s struggles in those three games, the Hotshots were fortunate that Mark Barroca stepped up to the plate. Barroca only tallied 5.7 points from Games 1 through 3, then went on to pour in 19.3 points the rest of the way. It also helped that Ian Sangalang and Calvin Abueva both scored in double digits in each of the six games they played against Meralco, which helped atone for Lee’s decline on offense.

However, it also exposed one Magnolia weakness — this is a top-heavy team without much depth on offense outside of their four stars. Jio Jalalon is a good all-around player, but his consistency is still iffy. The other rotational players for Magnolia who averaged double digits in minutes in the Meralco series are Rome dela Rosa, Jackson Corpuz, Justin Melton, and Rafi Reavis — all of whom are dependent on a teammate who can create scoring opportunities for them. 

The Hotshots may have bucked Lee’s inefficiency against the Bolts (particularly in the last three games), but it would be too much to overcome against the Tropang Giga’s defense, which is ranked second in the league this conference.

Sangalang-Abueva duo against TNT’s vaunted defense

The TNT’s interior defense hurdled a couple of tough challenges to reach this stage. They faced Ginebra’s Christian Standhardinger in the quarterfinals, then went up against the six-time Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo in the semifinals. This time around, the twin-headed monster of Sangaland and Abueva is waiting for them.

Sangalang’s consistency in scoring throughout this campaign has been a driving force for Magnolia’s success, and there’s no reason to doubt his abilities heading into this championship battle. Sangalang will see himself matched up against TNT’s Kelly Williams, who is definitely not a pushover. The 39-year-old Williams has been the anchor of TNT’s high-ranking defense, and the numbers back that up. Per Stats by Ryan, an advanced stats platform for Philippine basketball, Williams has an excellent rating of 2.7 in defensive box plus/minus (DBPM), ranking him third in the league among players who average at least 15 minutes and have played at least six games. Williams also ranks fourth in steal percentage (3.1%), which speaks of his versatility on defense.

Sangalang may find it difficult yet doable to take on Williams in single coverage, but don’t count on the Tropang Giga leaving their veteran center on an island. It’s possible that the Tropang Giga will collapse their defense on Sangalang at the post, and it will be during those times that the Magnolia big man will have to make perfectly-timed kick-out passes. Sangalang isn’t really a playmaking big, although he did compile six assists in Magnolia’s Game 6 win over Meralco. If he could at least dish out a couple of assists off the post play to keep the TNT defense second-guessing, then that would boost Magnolia’s chances.

On the other hand, it’s no secret that Abueva always injects a winning element to any team he suits up for. Abueva provides almost everything indicated in the stat sheet — whether that be scoring, defending, rebounding, and even playmaking. He can also hit the occasional three-pointers too. In fact, Abueva made two triples in four of the six games that the Hotshots played in the semifinals. He’s not the best shooter out there, but he’s willing to take the shot. 

Prediction: TNT grabs the All-Filipino Cup crown

TNT just went through a seven-game series against the most talented team in the league, and their confidence and belief in each other must be at an all-time high. Their offense had its share of struggles in the San Miguel series, but they had five players averaging double digits in scoring, with Kelly Wiliams close behind with 9.3 points. They have multi-faceted guards in Mikey Williams and Jayson Castro, two players who can effectively switch gears from scoring to playmaking and vice versa. RR Pogoy is coming off a huge 27-point performance in TNT’s closeout win against San Miguel, while Poy Erram arguably played in his best playoff series so far.

On paper, this is the closest battle you can get in a championship series. TNT and Magnolia are ranked first and second in net rating, and they successively trail each other in offensive and defensive ratings. But the Tropang Giga is no doubt the more complete team on both ends of the floor. The Hotshots’ chances hinge a lot on Lee’s health, but if the span of the last three games is any indication, then they are in for serious trouble.

It will be a tough battle, especially with Magnolia trying its best to impose their deliberate, slow-paced game, but TNT has enough to pull this off. The Tropang Giga should be able to hoist the championship trophy after six games. 

Advanced Stats are now available for Philippine basketball! Through Ryan Alba’s ‘Stats by Ryan’, you can now look at team and player advanced stats for the current 2021 PBA Philippine Cup (and the previous three seasons) via the Dribble Media website.

Check out this glossary for a list of the basketball advanced stats terminologies.

You can also contact Ryan via his Twitter handle (@_alba__).

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