Manila, Philippines – The long, sad walk back to the locker room after Game 4 of the 2014 PBA Governors’ Cup semifinals against Rain or Shine six months ago no longer haunts Louie Alas, the Alaska Aces assistant coach, the wound just a barely visible scar.
But the man who kept Aces head coach Alex Compton company in the darkest hours of their early collaboration is forever mindful of how quick fortunes can turn in a series, especially against an old nemesis in a war waged on practically the same battleground and under eerily similar circumstances.
Alaska point guard Jayvee Casio had the potential game-winning basket in Game 4 of the third conference semis last season, but he slipped on a wet portion of the Big Dome floor and Rain or Shine went on to force a deciding Game 5, which the Elasto Painters eventually won to advance to the championship.
“Mas matindi yung Game 4 (compared to Game 5) kasi pang-close na yon,” said Alas on the phone yesterday. “Pero sa totoo lang, very seldom na namin napag-uusapan yon umpisa pa nong August sa training camp. Malaking bagay ung mga veterans namin dahil yung mga negatives e nagagawa nilang maging positives.”
Compton also made it a point, Alas said, to impress in the minds of the Aces that this season is a new one, “with a new system and a new attitude”
With a fresh off the plant pressing defense installed, the Aces put behind them the painful past, looking ahead instead at the promise of a better future. Alaska went to the quarterfinal playoffs as the No. 4 seed, dispatched NLEX and then Meralco to reach the best-of-7 semis , and now leads Rain or Shine, 3-2.
“Sabi nga sa kanila ni Coach Alex before the New Year’s Day break, ‘you don’t deserve to lose because of all the hard work and sacrifice that you put into coming back after last season.’ Kaya siguro di na nagma-matter sa kanila ang nangyari noon kundi ang importante e yung ngayon.”
Which, ironically, is where Alaska stood last season: Against Rain or Shine in the semis, and ahead by one game with two to go in the series.”
The former Adamson Falcon stalwart need not be reminded.
“Aware naman kami doon,” Alas said. “Pero sa series na ‘to, papalit-palit ang nanalo; walang momentum. Every other game me bagong nanalo. So yun ang gusto naming ma-break. Yung talo ng Game 4 noon at yung almost namin sa Game 5, past na yon. Yung nasa harap namin ang mahalaga ngayon.”
What’s also before them, close to within reach, is a spot in the Finals, which ROS denied them the last time they met. Is this enough reason to make him anxious?
“Personally, gusto ko yung kinakabahan ako before the game kasi maganda ang nangyayari; lahat kasi ng bases gusto mong ma-touch,” Alas said. “Pag kumpiyansa kami, diyan kami madalas matalo. Pero siempre ayaw di naman namin ng over-preparation dahil nako-confuse ang mga players pag madami ka masyadong preparasyon.”
So are the Aces prepared to do whatever it takes to slay a ghost that they’ve been trying hard to ignore?
“Yung physicality ba ang ibig mo sabihin? Sabi nga ng mga players, kahit sa pagtulog, nasisiko ka ng katabi mo e, sa laro pa kaya. Palaman na lang sa tinapay yon siguro.”
But the coaching staff, Alas said, draws the line between what’s acceptable and what’s not.
“Pag bumawi ka o mag-isip kang bumawi, diyan magagalit si Coach Alex,” said Alas. “Kasi one percent ka lang mawala sa focus dahil sa ano mang bagay, yun concentration level mo bababa sigurado. Yon ang di acceptable. Kaya nga si Calvin [Abueva] laging pinapa-alalahanan na huwag mawawala ang focus sa laro.”
No more worries about wet spots on the floor? “Wala na siguro,” Alas said, laughing. “Sa MOA Arena naman laro e.”