By TITO S. TALAO
Game Wednesday (Smart Araneta)
8 p.m. – San Mig vs Petron
Manila, Philippines – For beleaguered MVP Arwind Santos, Game 6 today will be his redemption or his ruin – either he leads Petron Blaze to victory or fall trying.
Before the night is over, as the Boosters fight for life in the PBA Governors’ Cup PLDT-Telpad Finals, Santos will find acceptance as the season’s best or face dismissal as an undeserving winner.
The options had never been so limited. And nobody knows it more than Petron’s top gun.
“Alam ko hindi ako sinisisi ng mga kasama ko, pero siyempre tao lang tayo na naaapektuhan ng game,” a tearful Santos told The Bulletin after Game 5 Sunday.
“Kailangan ko ‘yung mga kasama ko. Sana tulungan nila ako, mag-tiwala pa rin sila. Sana maayos ko yung sarili ko, yung nararamdaman ko para makabawi kami. Importante kasi yung pinagkaka-tiwalaan ka ng mga coaches mo, mga teammates mo. Yun ang nagbibigay ng lakas sa isang player.”
Santos, who edged Barangay Ginebra San Miguel’s LA Tenorio for the MVP award before Game 4 last Friday, threw an errant pass with 21 seconds left that evening which practically cost Petron the game.
He was then benched for most of the second half in Game 5 in what Boosters mentor Gee Abanilla said was “a coach’s decision” and finished with just two free throws as a starter.
“We need Arwind to contribute more,” an icy Abanilla said after the 114-103 loss which allowed San Mig to take a 3-2 lead.
Santos’ wrenching appeal for understanding and support has lent drama and emotion to an otherwise efficient and strategy-filled hard-fought series.
It has also stolen some of the thunder from the Mixers’ remarkable comeback.
San Mig Coffee seeks its 11th franchise championship at 8 p.m. at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, with coach Tim Cone looking to tie the legendary Baby Dalupan with 15 titles dating back to Cone’s days with Alaska Milk.
Petron, on the other hand, have to force a winner-take-all Game 7 on Friday to fan the flames of a drenched bid to win a 20th franchise crown.
“As the series gets longer, it gets harder,” said Cone. “Both teams become desperate. The next ones will be harder than this one, for sure.”
And sweet should the Mixers succeed in putting away the Boosters with another masterful victory as in Game 5 where they shot 55 percent from the floor and 12 of 17 from the free throw line in the last quarter when Petron rallied from 28 points down to come within three points twice.
Then Alex Mallari, PJ Simon and James Yap came through with huge three-pointers in the last five minutes at around the time Santos was warming the bench and probably wondering what fate awaits him.