|Now that the finals are set, and last season’s champions have demonstrated that perhaps last season was no fluke at all, we’re looking at what may be the most intriguing match-up in recent finals we've had in awhile.|
By virtue of tossing a big monkey off their backs – okay Ian Yu AND Howie Chu were nowhere to be found – Yaletown beat the Hypebeasts for the first time this season in four tries to gain the right to try and knock off SK War Dog twice to claim the chip.
It’s going to be a daunting task. A tall task. And I use that word tall on purpose as a means to segue into my next point.
Man, there’s a lotta height that’s gonna be on display in this game.
That right there may be what’s most intriguing about this match-up.
Yale, a team boasting three 6 footers (hey, that’s tall in Asian ball) will seem dwarfish against SK, who themselves, have three 6 footer pluses.
One of them - Akshat Tewary, better known as AK-47 – has simply been on a rampage as of late and doesn’t appear like he will be stopped.
Their others are JR Bautista, who has been playing at a ridiculously high level lately, and a former AAA MVP in Arif Ansari.
Right about now, Willis Ho, Dave Wang, and Brian Yang’s knees may be buckling thinking about all that height.
Well, no matter what, the AL has once again proved that come playoff time, anything is possible.
This is a pitting of a #3 and #5 seed in the finals. Numbers 1, 2, and even 4 are all packed and gearing up for Christmas while a 6-3 team and a .500 team are playing for the chip.
Santa, I love this game.
Why SK will win this game: SK, rightfully so, are the heavy favorites. They hold the double-elimination card still and in DL history, no team who has come into the finals with one loss has ever taken two to take the crown. We’ve seen the one-loss team beat the no loss team, but then the no loss team has always bounced back to win in Game 2. Winning twice is just such a hard task as the first game is always an emotionally and physically draining task for the underdog to win, that by Game 2, they are too drained to duplicate the feat. It’ll probably happen at some point in time, but it’s difficult to see it happening in this match-up. SK is just too big.
Tewary is averaging 14.7 points and 13.7 rebounds a game in the playoffs. Bautista is stuffing the stats to the tune of 13 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1.7 spg, and 1.7 bpg. And then Yale has to contend with Ansari’s presence – I just don’t see how Ho, Wang, and Yang can do it. Eljay Aguillo makes it especially hard because he opens up the paint for SK by stretching the defense, making it impossible for Yale to send their guards down to pack it in. Aguillo is averaging 15.7 ppg in the post-season and has made 8/17 from three. SK simply has too many weapons. SK’s other elements are perfect pieces to their puzzle. Felix Shen is the ideal point for their attack because he takes no shots, all he does is set the table and he relishes that role. Owen Wang is there to back up Shen, or sometimes start for him. He only needs about 2 or 3 shots per game more than Shen which means he essentially is still the perfect set-up man that SK needs. Their points are just so unselfish. Between Shen and Wang, they’re averaging 3.7 apg in the playoffs – and that’s with Wang missing their game against Moe’s Tavern. Even without Aly Govani (who won’t be in the line-up on Thursday), SK’s forwards spots are solid with both Andre Liu and Siam Rahman plugging in the holes. Rahman gives them extra rebounds and is another player who needs absolutely no shots to be happy. Liu is dangerous and can play x-factor any time by virtue of his ability to hit dagger threes, rebound, and defend as well. In 3 playoff games, Liu has 17 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 steals – hardly anything to sneeze at.
Unless it snows tomorrow and Aguillo, Tewary, Ansari, and Liu can’t make it in from New Jersey, I just can’t see their attack slowed down. In these teams regular season match-up (an SK 51-46 win), AK-47 and Bautista weren’t yet in the SK line-up. Needless to say, they make a huge difference. They aren’t going to try to do anything different Thursday. It’s going to be Aguillo stopping and jab-stepping for threes and AK dominating the lane, while Bautista does all the other things with his athleticism to disrupt Yale’s plans. SK takes care of business in Game 1, 58-45.
Why Yaletown will win this game: No one other than Dave Wang’s wife is giving this team a chance to win this game against SK. (And even her confidence is in question.) And why should they? SK is on a roll, Yale is only here because Howie and Ian were no shows in their semifinal game, and Yale, remember, had a very ordinary regular season, finishing with a 5-5 record.
Well, please cue the Rocky theme song here. Every game has an underdog, and sometimes, that’s a role that that team will relish in. Yale is just such that team.
Yes, their tall 3 are outsized by SK’s big 3 by about 4 inches or 20 pounds or 10 inches in vertical jump, but sometimes it’s not so much about the height, weight, or hops, but about the heart. After a tough start to their season, Yale has turned it around and gone 5-1 in their last 6 games. They are far from perfect, but they are really coming together as of late. B-Yang has taken his tired old legs and led them to the precipice. Ho has been missing in action as he’s made only one playoff game, but he thinks he’ll be around for Thursday’s game. Wang, who missed most of Wednesday night’s game against Hype, having been stuck at work, promises to rebound by showing up on time for SK.
In many of Yale’s losses this season, including that regular season loss to SK, Eden Chuang wasn’t there. This 22-year old Canadian sensation is leading Yale in the post-season with 15.5 ppg, 2.75 apg, 3.0 spg, and shooting 57.5% FG and is playing with the reckless abandon that an upstart underdog needs. If he can do an adequate job staying in front of Aguillo, and getting out in the open for easy baskets, he’ll be able to neutralize the guard advantage SK seemingly has. Fred Lee, Yale’s shooting guard, will be relied on to knock down some big 3’s. That’s just an absolute for them to pull off this upset.
Yang, who will be dealing with a handful in trying to cover Tewary, will also have to upkeep his post-season play of 15.3 ppg, 8.75 rpg, 58.8% FG, and 75% FT on the offensive end. Tewary and Bautista will make it difficult for him inside, but if Yang’s got anything left in his bag of tricks, now is the time to pull it out.
Nelson Wong is Yale’s x-factor. Wong, Yale’s most athletic player, hasn’t really found his groove until recently – and that’s just music to Yale’s ears as they’ll need everything they can throw at SK to pull off a win. Wong’s post-season numbers have included 10.8 ppg and 8.0 rpg. He’s on a roll despite a tough shooting night on Wednesday. I like for him to come big when it counts the most.
Yale’s real secret weapon maybe their coach, however - Sung-Mo Cho. Cho has spent time recently scouting SK and dissecting what needs to be done in order to play them. He’s an X’s and O’s guy and in the game of basketball, sometimes it’s all about that – and not who’s more talented, taller, more athletic, or has the better record. Just ask anyone who has played Princeton in the NCAA’s.
Yale’s issue is that they’ll have to do this twice in order to be repeat champions. On Thursday however, their motto will be: just get one. If they come with heart and play with their emotion in motion, I can see a 58-56 win.