by Tito S. Talao
Manila, Philippines – As expected, turbulence struck hard on the final leg of its quest for the Grand Slam. But San Mig Super Coffee hung on strong behind the familiar hand and steady guidance of a man who 18 years ago steered another voyage safely through these same waters.
Now the gates of the elite circle of Grand Slam champions – the Crispa Redmanizers (1976 and 1983), San Miguel Beer (1989) and Alaska (1996) – have swung open to welcome its most recent member. But the Mixers had to thread through the eye of a needle to get in and engrave their names into history.
Rain or Shine refused to give San Mig easy passage down to the final second, never surrendering the ghost before falling, 92-89, last night in the winner-take-all Game 5 of the PLDT Home Telpad Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Governors’ Cup Finals before a breathless crowd of 23,234 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
San Mig Coach Tim Cone, who led Alaska to the league’s last GrandSlam, raced after Rain or Shine counterpart Yeng Guiao and embraced the outspoken Elasto Painters mentor after AZ Reid’s three-point attempt rimmed out at the final buzzer.
James Yap, who finished with 29 points, was named Holcim-PBA Finals MVP by the PBA Press Corps led by its president Barry Pascua of Bandera.
The championship was the 18th for Cone, five of them with the Mixers in the last eight conferences, and the 13th for the San Mig franchise, tying Crispa behind San Miguel Beer (19) and Alaska (14).
With four straight titles from last season’s third conference, San Mig is now on track to matching the six consecutive championship record of the Crispa Redmanizers which has stood for 38 years.
“What a great feeling!” said Cone. “Just unbelievable. I’m overwhelmed. The guys just found a way. It’s amazing to watch them.”
The Mixers saw a 16-point third quarter lead dissolve early in the fourth, 73-72. But Yap, as usual, came to the rescue with a huge three-pointer and San Mig slowly regained its focus.
The E-Painters got numerous chances to send the game into overtime in the closing seconds, especially after Yap and Mark Barroca missed two free throws each, but their bread-and-butter outside shot deserted them when they needed it most, with Paul Lee, Jeff Chan and Reid clanging desperate heaves from afar.
Yap had 14 points in the first half and the Mixers defense clamped down on two of the Elasto Painters’ top shooters in taking a 43-38 lead at the break.
Going 6 of 10 with two 3-point shots, Yap had eight in the first 12 minutes when San Mig opened as many as a 9-point lead, coming off picks and spinning around defenders for one-handed jumpers.
Paul Lee hit 3 of 3 from three-point range in the first 24 minutes. But San Mig’s aggressive switching defense and double-teaming held Reid, playing hurt with a sprained ankle, to just four points and Jeff Chan to a free throw.
Reid, the Best Import winner, was 2 of 10 from the floor while Chan, who played just 8 minutes, got off just one 3-point attempt. San Mig was 19 of 39 in the first half (48 percent); Rain or Shine 14 of 41 (34 percent).
San Mig Coffee 92 – Yap 29, Blakely 20, Devance 11, Pingris 10, Simon 10, Barroca 6, Maliksi 4, Sangalang 2, Mallari 0, Reavis 0, Melton 0.
Rain or Shine 89 – Reid 23, Lee 21, Almazan 11, Norwood 11, Belga 7, Chan 6, Arana 4, Uyloan 2, Cruz 2, Tiu 2, Ibanes 0, Rodriguez 0.
Quarterscores: 23-16, 43-38, 73-70, 92-89.