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PBA: Aces eye PBA Finals

Compton and Guiao

Game Today (Mall of Asia Arena)
5 p.m. – Alaska vs Rain or Shine

Manila, Philippines – This could be the day Alaska banishes the ghost of a haunting loss last season. It could also be the day the Aces start reliving the nightmare all over again.

Six months after Rain or Shine beat Alaska in five games in the semifinals of the season-ending PBA Governors’ Cup, the Aces now confront eerily similar circumstances in Game 6 of the 2015 Philippine Cup best-of-seven semis at the Mall of Asia Arena.

As before, the Aces lead the series, this time by 3 games to 2, and again they are but one victory away from advancing to the Finals where June Mar Fajardo and San Miguel Beer await, rested and raring.

Gametime is 5 p.m. at the Mall of Asia Arena, 15.3 kilometers away from the site of perhaps the Aces’ most agonizing defeat in franchise history.

A crucial steal by Alaska point guard JVee Casio in the waning seconds of overtime in Game 4 of the semis back in July, with the Aces ahead, 2-1, in the best-of-5 series, set up the potential game-winning layup.

But fate intervened as the all-alone Casio slipped on a wet spot on the floor of the Araneta Coliseum, twisted his knee and lost possession. ROS center Beau Belga then scored on a power putback to win it for the E-Painters, 123-121, arranging the do-or-die Game 5.

The Aces fought fiercely with injured starters Sonny Thoss, Gabby Espinas and Casio on the bench but couldn’t overcome their absence and bowed to the E-Painters, 97-94.

Now Alaska faces a dreadful déjà vu, with Rain or Shine looking to deny the Aces once more.

Aces coach Alex Compton was careful to put things in perspective after Alaska came back from 19 points down to take Game 5 (93-88) last Dec. 27 for a 3-2 lead in the series.

“All we did for ourselves was get a twice-to-beat (advantage),” said Compton. “We (still) need to win one of them. It’s not a guarantee that we’ll get there. Without question it’s not going to be easy.”

Especially against a team that has beaten them before while facing the same odds, and a coach who can psychologically take over a game by sheer will.

“What’s scary is they have a Hall of Fame coach and we give him a week to teach and do stuff and put stuff in. Of all the matchups, pinaka lugi kami sa head coaching matchup,” said Compton.

Yeng Guiao, the ROS coach, didn’t buy any of the stuff however.

“Walang may advantage o disadvantage doon sa break. Sila nga ang panay ang pressure defense, e di mapapahinga rin sila, di ba? The rest should do both teams good,” Guiao said.

Rain or Shine’s battle experience, Guiao said, will be their biggest weapon.

“If we can match the desire of the other team, I believe that our experience will be our advantage against them,” he said. “I believe that the guys want it, they want to play in the finals and they want to compete for the championship. That’s where my confidence comes, the experience we gained over the years of playing together.”

Though years of seasoning may be on their side, the E-Painters will have to find answers to the Aces’ unforgiving pressure defense and strength under the boards, with Sonny Thoss, Eric Menk and the tireless Calvin Abueva hammering their counterparts in rebounds through most part of the series.

Much of ROS ‘ success in forcing a Game 7 will also depend to a large extent on rediscovering its lost outside shooting, with Game 5 alone seeing the E-Painters missing 29 of 39 three-point attempts.