by Tito S. Talao
Game Today (Game 5) (Smart Araneta)
4:45 p.m. – Petron vs San Mig Coffee
Manila, Philippines – They were fast, they were furious, and they couldn’t keep from fouling in the fourth quarter.
Petron Blaze offered Game 4 on a silver platter from the free throw line Friday and San Mig Coffee took it, knocking down 12 in the final period, including 8 in the last 2:37.
Now the PLDT-Telpad PBA Governors’ Cup Finals is tied, 2-2, with the Mixers going to Game 5 today armed with the experience of having gone through hell and back.
Action fires off at 4:45 p.m. with the best-of-7 series thankfully returning to the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The trend follows a familiar pattern, Petron taking Games 1 (100-84) and 3 (90-68) and San Mig bouncing back in Games 2 (100-93) and 4 (88-86).
San Mig will be looking to smash that alternating sequence of events while Petron will naturally want to preserve it.
“That’s a game we have to win,” said Boosters coach Gee Abanilla after Tim Cone and San Mig weathered the biggest storm to come their way this conference.
The nerve-wracking finish left both coaches physically and emotionally drained, with Cone, pale and hoarse from all the shouting he did to help the Mixers survive, requesting a bottle of water before answering questions in the post-game interview.
Asked if he would like a cigarette as well as was his wont during times of stress in the past, Cone laughed and said. “Oh, I’ve quit, but I would’ve loved to.”
There was no quitting in San Mig Coffee, however – even after Petron came roaring back from 28 points down in the second quarter, even after consecutive tip-ins by Elijah Millsap and Junemar Fajardo gave the Boosters a four-point lead with six minutes remaining, and even after James Yap wavered and missed two important free throws in the last 9.5 seconds.
That fight-back by Petron from 49-21 in the second quarter amazed Cone.
“That showed how explosive they can be, coming back that quickly and that fast,” he said.
Quick and fast was 34 points in the third quarter for the Boosters, with Millsap, beaten to the Best Import award by San Mig’s Marqus Blakely, pouring 17, two more than the Mixers’ production in that period.
A 3-pointer by Marcio Lassiter, a surprise entry in the All-Defensive Team during the Leo Awards earlier, capped the rally and gave Petron the upper hand, 73-71.
Following an exchange of baskets and leadership, the score was left tied for the sixth time at 83-all.
Then came two critical plays involving 2013 MVP winner Arwind Santos inside 60 seconds.
First was a miss which San Mig’s Mark Barroca, 6 of 6 from the line, turned into an 85-83 edge for the Mixers. Petron called time and had Santos do the inbound pass with 21.9 seconds to go.
Millsap made a move to go out but cut back at the last second and Santos’ throw-in sailed away for a turnover. PJ Simon, 5 of 5 from the stripe, was fouled and swished in both, 87-83, for all the cushion San Mig needed.
Overall, the foul line remained a bane for Petron as San Mig collected 46 from 32 fouls called on the Boosters, who had 24 less attempts. The Mixers did miss 18 of those charities but redeemed themselves in the last quarter where they went 12 of 17.
“We allowed San Mig to get that big lead and it was really hard to catch up,” said Abanilla, adding the breaks didn’t go their way in the end.
Neither did the big plays when Petron had to make them, especially after Yap left the door open by missing two free throws with San Mig holding on to an 87-86 lead with less than 10 seconds remaining.
With the Boosters routed in the assist department (17-10) and clearly lacking in floor leadership and clutch plays, the big question now is whether they will bite the bullet and suit up injured point guard Alex Cabagnot, who sat out his second straight game with plantar fasciitis (inflamed sole ligament) on his right foot.
“We’ll see,” said Abanilla when asked after Game 4 whether the time has come to activate Cabagnot.
If he does, expect Cone to run Cabagnot ragged, pounding the ball to whomever he will be guarding.