by Tito S. Talao
Game Today (Mall of Asia Arena)
8 p.m. – Petron vs San Mig Coffee (Game 4)
Manila, Philippines – The San Mig Coffee Mixers had 48 hours to put behind them Wednesday’s Game 3 debacle.
Whether that were enough to head off an impending disaster is something Petron Blaze will put to a severe test today when it is determined if the PLDT-Telpad PBA Governors’ Cup Finals will proceed as a duel to the death or a walk in the park.
Game 4 of the best-of-7 championship series unfolds at 8 p.m. at the Mall of Asia Arena, with the Boosters, who are seeking their franchise 20th PBA title, gunning for a 3-1 lead against a suddenly mediocre-looking finals opponent.
San Mig will be hard-pressed to shake off the tag.
After leading for three quarters in Game 1 and then suffering an inexplicable meltdown in a 100-84 loss, the Mixers redeemed themselves with steely resolve in Game 2, 100-93, to level the series and inject hope that the title showdown will go down the wire despite the Boosters’ powerhouse lineup and reputation.
But came that blowout loss two days ago, which was more of a repeat of the opener except on a wider scale. And everything came crashing down for the Mixers.
While Petron didn’t drop any 41-point fourth quarter bomb this time, the Boosters did wipe out all resistance in the first half after spraying the Mixers with seven three-point shots on the way to a 55-30 halftime lead.
The Mixers were outscored, 27-10, in the second period and managed just 33 percent (12 of 36) from the field in the first 24 minutes.
Understandably, San Mig is in a hurry to get over the catastrophic defeat.
“We’re gonna throw this game out the window and focus on the next one,” vowed Mixers coach Tim Cone. Asked what specifically went wrong, Cone said, “Nothing specific, everything just went wrong.”
Taking the blame for the setback, Cone said “we knew we had to be firing on all cylinders against this team and we didn’t prepare the players enough for this game.”
Both teams started at breakneck speed. But while Petron rocketed on from 11-all, San Mig coughed and sputtered against the Boosters’ asphyxiating D, falling behind 28-20 in the first quarter and eventually getting run over.
The Mixers got nothing going from their key players to stop the bleeding, with Marqus Blakely scoring 8 of his 17 in the third quarter before getting shut down in the fourth.
San Mig missed 13 of 15 three-point attempts, with James Yap going 0 for 3, Joe Devance 0 for 2, Alex Mallari 1 for 4, and Blakely himself 0 for 2. Again the Mixers got markedly more free throws 28 to 8, but they missed 14 (8 by Blakely) and were outscored in second-chance points, 17-11.
Petron hardly missed the services of ace point guard Alex Cabagnot, who watched the game in crutches to take the load off the inflamed plantar fasciitis (ligament) in the sole of his right foot.
Gee Abanilla, the Petron coach, said that while he doesn’t want to aggravate Cabagnot’s injury, his immediate return would be most welcome.
“He’s day-to-day as of now but we’re hoping he’d come back ASAP,” Abanilla said.
Neither reserve is saying a word. But with the way relievers Paolo Hubalde (9 points) and Dennis Miranda (2 three-pointers) stepped in to fill the void at the No. 1 spot (Petron dished off 20 assists to San Mig’s 18), Cabagnot could probably take all the rest he needs this series.
Elijah Millsap (28 points on 5 of 9 three-point shooting) and Junmar Fajardo (19 points, 9 rebounds) have continued to be the biggest thorns on San Mig’s side, a lethal outside-inside threat Petron has exploited to the hilt.
“We made some technical adjustments after losing Game 2 and I’m just happy they worked,” said Abanilla, revealing little of the tinkering they did. “I think we showed character coming back from Game Two.”
Now it’s San Mig’s turn to show some.
This isn’t a swan song yet for the Mixers, but it’s terribly close.
Unless they find ways to match the Boosters’ brute strength and mental toughness tonight to avert a looming one-sided series, Cone’s opening remarks during the post-game interview after Game 3 may well be San Mig’s parting words.
Said Cone: “They were great, we were not.”
San Mig Coffee has the entire evening to erase that inscription; the same length of time Petron Blaze has to cast it in stone.