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PBA: Aces reach finals

Alaska's Calvin Abueva and Beau Belga of  RaoinOrShine's battle for the loose ball during PBA semis action at MOA Arena.    Photo by Tony Pionilla

Manila, Philippines – Dondon Hontiveros provided the fireworks last night as the Alaska Aces extended the New Year celebration by exacting vengeance on Rain or Shine, 79-76, in Game 6 of the PBA Philippine Cup semifinals at the Mall of Asia Arena and arranging a best-of-7 championship showdown with powerhouse San Miguel Beer.

Game 1 of the Finals is on Wednesday, 7 p,m., at the Smart Araneta Coliseum where both teams, ranked first and second in championships won, claimed their biggest triumphs. The Beermen have won 19 titles overall, while the Aces have 14 under their belt.

Hontiveros scored all of his game-high 17 points from 3-point range in the fourth quarter, burying one dagger after another in a single-minded mission to avenge multiple slights Alaska had suffered at the hands of Rain or Shine last year, from a 51-point loss to a painful semifinal loss in the Governors’ Cup.

Hitting 5-of-9 three-pointers, Hontiveros was precision personified with three consecutive early in the fourth that erased a 62-61 deficit and back-to-back inside the last two minutes, the first to tie the game, 76-all, and the second for the go-ahead trey, 79-76.

The Aces then went to their vaunted pressure defense to make sure this one won’t slip away like before, denying the Elasto Painters their last six shots, including a 3-point attempt by Jeff Chan at the buzzer.

Hontiveros moved within two heaves of reaching the 1,000 3-point shot milestone and joining Allan Caidic, Ronnie Magsanoc and Al Solis in that elite pantheon.

“I’m just so happy to be in the finals; this is awesome,” said Alaska coach Alex Compton who endured some tough moments in his head-to-head with ROS mentor Yeng Guiao.

Calvin Abueva added 15 points with 9 rebounds for Alaska, including a key putback in the last 3:10 after the E-Painters opened a 74-71 lead on triple by Chan. Sonny Thoss came through with 11 points.

Alaska’s bench dominated its counterpart, 49-30, and the Aces’ 36-26 production advantage was crucial as well.

ROS had a brilliant moment in the third quarter when they outscored Alaska, 32-20, draining four triples after going 1 of 15 in the first half. But the Aces’ pressure defense, which held the E-Painters to 28 points in the first 24 minutes, ultimately took its toll as Paul Lee shot just 2 of 11 from the floor and the entire team shot just 7 of 34 beyond the arc.

“I’m just proud of our defense. I think we showed a lot of character,” said Compton, who now faces his former coach, Leo Austria, when both were still with Welcoat Paints (now Rain or Shine).

San Miguel and Alaska are facing off in a championship for the first time since the 2010 Fiesta Conference where then coach Tim Cone beat Siot Tanquingcen and SMB in six games. Cone transferred to San Mig Coffee the following year while the Aces waited two more years to win their 14th crown with Luigi Trillo in the 2012 Commissioner’s Cup.

It has been 17 years, however, since the two ballclubs met in the Philippine Cup Finals, with Cone and Alaska beating Ron Jacobs and SMB in Game 7 in 1998.

Alaska edged SMB, 66-63, in their elimination round meeting this conference.

Asked if a low-scoring game would be the key against the Beermen in the Finals, Compton said, “With the league’s last two MVPs (Arwind Santos and June Mar Fajardo) in their lineup, maybe we have to get to eat bad food first before Game 1. They’re just so awesome.”

Lost in the din of the celebration behind the Alaska bench was ROS co-team owner Raymond Yu walking up to Alaska owner Wilfred Steven Uytengsu and shaking the latter’s hand.

ALASKA 79 – Hontiveros 17, Abueva 15, Thoss 11, Baguio 6, Manuel 6, Menk 6, Jazul 5, Exciminiano 4, Dela Cruz 4, Casio 3, Banchero 2, Eman 0, Dela Rosa 0, Espinas 0.

RAIN OR SHINE 76 – Chan 14, Almazan 11, Uyloan 9, Arana 9, Belga 9, Lee 7, Ibanes 6, Norwood 4, Tang 4, Quinahan 3, Teng 0, Tiu 0, Cruz 0.

Quarters: 20-16, 36-28, 56-60, 79-76