Manila, Philippines – Dondon Hontiveros drained two 3-point shots, including a buzzer-beater, during a 12-3 run in the third quarter as the Alaska Aces completed a 19-point fightback in beating Rain or Shine, 93-88, in Game 5 last night for a 3-2 lead in the PBA semifinals at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The best-of-7 series takes a break for the rest of the year, with Game 6 set on Jan. 4 and Alaska gunning for a berth in the Finals against San Miguel Beer.
Hontiveros buried a triple in the middle of a 9-point Alaska surge that made it 73-64 with a minute left in the third. He then restored momentum back to the Aces after Jeff Chan had drilled a 3-pointer from deep left by banking a 30-footer off the glass as time expired in the first half.
Rain or Shine, which led, 37-18, early in the second period, came no closer than three points the rest of the way as Cyrus Baguio and Calvin Abueva, with 16 points each, provided the lethal combination, along with forward Vic Manuel, in the scorching fourth period.
Abueva had 11 rebounds for the Aces, picking himself up from one fall after another in pressing the attack.
The E-Painters put together a 9-3 run to move within, 79-76, with 8 minutes left. But Sonny Thoss hit back-to-back baskets and Baguio a 3-pointer to make it 88-81. ROS had a last gasp on conversions by Gabe Norwood and Beau Belga for 88-84 although it was the nearest they got from there as its guns fell silent.
Alex Compton, the Aces coach, marveled at the way the E-Painters took control early.
“They played great in the first half; they were aggressive in transition and they hit some great shots,” said Compton. “Unfortunately, we expected this kind of game where we had our hearts in our throats. It was just good for us that some guys came in and provided the energy to bring us back in the game”
He paid tribute to defensive guard Chris Exciminiano, who held Paul Lee to three points in the fourth quarter and 5 of 14 from the field overall.
“I think his defensive effort changed the game for us,” Compton said.
Alaska finished with the 6-foot-9 Thoss and 6-foot-6 power forward Eric Menk on the bench, going instead to a smaller but more agile one-on-one players like Baguio and Abueva to create mismatches against the tiring ROS defenders.
ROS missed 29 three-pointers, a malady afflicting it throughout the series. The E-Painters were also outscored in fast breaks, 23-8, and gave up 20 points (to Alaska’s 8) from just 14 turnovers.
Compton brushed aside talks about their 3-2 advantage.
“Basically what we got is a twice to beat; we still need to get one,” he said. “No question it won’t be easy and there’s no guarantee we’ll be there.”
The weeklong break, Compton said, should favor the E-Painters.
“They have a Hall of Fame coach who can find ways to get back in the series,” he said. “And this won’t be good for my heart and my gray hair.”
Asked about the Aces coming back from 17 points down in Game 1 and now from 19, Compton said, “Well, lately, my cardiologist has become my best friend.”