By TITO S. TALAO
Game Today) (Smart Araneta)
8 p.m. – San Mig vs Petron
Manila, Philippines – A career in clairvoyance could open up for San Mig Coffee’s Joe Devance should his pre-Finals prediction come true in Game 7 tonight.
Devance might even get a victory ride from his Mixers teammates should the Nostradamus part of his prophecy hold up as well.
The PLDT-Telpad PBA Governors’ Cup championship will be on the line when San Mig Coffee and Petron Blaze conclude a grueling best-of-7 series with a winner-take-all seventh game at 8 p.m. today at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Also up for grabs is the Papa John’s-PBA Press Corps Finals MVP plaque.
The Boosters, behind Elijah Millsap, Junmar Fajardo, Alex Cabagnot and MVP Arwind Santos denied the Mixers a Game 6 triumph last Wednesday, 99-88, putting on hold San Mig’s celebration for a 10th franchise championship while resurrecting their own bid for a 20th title.
“This is for all the marbles,” said Petron coach Gee Abanilla after the game, clearly relieved their season wasn’t over yet. “It’s just what every coach and player dream to be a part of.”
Well, maybe not all coaches.
Tim Cone, the Mixers mentor gunning for his 15th crown which would put him in the company of the legendary Baby Dalupan, rued letting Game 6 slip away.
“We wanted to avoid a winner-take-all because too many things can happen in that situation,” said Cone. “We certainly had our chances tonight. But beating Petron three games in a row is a huge mountain to climb.”
Yet something the Mixers will have to scale.
“We’ll go at it on Friday,” vowed Cone.
Millsap struck for 13 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter, nine in succession as he tirelessly pumped fuel to the Boosters’ flagging cause after the Mixers had unleashed PJ Simon (11 of his 14 in the 4th) and come back from 16 points to seize the upper hand with five minutes left.
His tip-in with 3:07 to go made it 89-86 and the Mixers, hurt by consecutive Marqus Blakely turnovers, were never heard from after that.
“This was a game we were not willing to lose,” said Millsap, who aggravated a painful jammed toe after getting tripped by Alex Mallari halfway in the second quarter.
Neither was Cone willing, but some of his players apparently were not as resolute.
“As I’ve said before, we cannot play this team without all cylinders firing,” he said. “We have to be very precise in our execution in both sides of the floor.”
A mere basket by Blakely in the fourth and five errors overall, plus Mark Barroca going scoreless in 29 minutes, drove home Cone’s point.
Santos, a subject of speculations after his poor performance in Games 4 and 5, redeemed himself with 12 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals in 37 minutes, picking up early fouls while holding Blakely to two points in the first quarter but managing to stay in the game till the end.
Next to Millsap (3 triples, 6 assists, 2 steals), Cabagnot (12 points, 6 assists) and Junmar Fajardo (21 points, 14 rebounds, 3 blocks), Santos will be the man to watch for Petron at the appointed time.
The same holds true perhaps for Devance, San Mig’s zonebreaking snap shooter who dabbled in some good-natured foretelling during the pre-Finals press conference where he painted a head-spinning scenario late in Game 7.
In his vision, Devance pictured Blakely getting fouled and going to the line with a second remaining and Petron up by one. Blakely makes his first free throw, tying the score, but misses the second.
Devance then soars over everybody else and tips in the ball to beat the buzzer and ignite wild celebration inside the Big Dome.
“We’re the champions and I’m the hero,” Devance deadpanned, drawing laughter all around that afternoon two weeks ago. Well, the Finals is in Game 7 and nobody’s laughing, least of all the Boosters, who knew their conference would have ended badly right then and there in Game 6 had fate, in the form of Elijah Millsap, not intervened in the final 12 minutes.
It didn’t help the Mixers, for sure, that they bricked 19 three-point attempts and took eight less free throws after dominating that department in the finals with their aggressive forays.
But it was San Mig’s failure to shut down Millsap in the crunch that ultimately dealt the Mixers the death blow.
As for Devance looking into a crystal ball and actually coming up with the championship-winning shot tonight? Now that bears watching, and truly would be for soothsayers and mystics to divine on if it magically happens.