The battle lines have been crossed. Blood has been spilled. Game 3 today will be war.
With the best-of-7 series back to square one after a tumultuous Game 2 Friday, San Miguel Beer and Alaska clash for a 2-1 lead in the PBA Philippine Cup Finals at the Smart Coliseum, with both teams bearing the wounds and bruises of an atrociously-fought championship.
Brawl-time is at 5 p.m., with Part II of the Arwind Santos-Calvin Abueva Saga of Pampanga showdown expected to continue in fierce fashion as the two Lubao natives jaw at each other for bragging rights in their province.
The Aces won Game 1 in overtime, 88-82, after San Miguel squandered a 22-point second quarter lead and failed to hang on to the slimmest of margins late in regulation.
But the Beermen returned with revenge in their hearts the next game, going toe-to-toe with Alaska in a bruising and bloody encounter that saw action interrupted by skirmishes at least half a dozen times, with the worst taking place halfway in the third quarter when Santos got up from the floor with blood flowing down his face from a gash on top of his head.
Video replay showed Abueva bringing down a forearm on Santos’ head during a tenacious rebound play and probably hitting the 2013 MVP with his elbow.
The sight of blood apparently triggered a dormant rage within the Beermen who went on to pulverize the Aces, 100-86, to level the series.
Santos, who returned to the game after having the cut sutured and taped, led SMB with 22 points on 9-of-16 shooting after a quiet 12-point production in Game 1. Chris Lutz added 20 with three 3-pointers as with Santos, June Mar Fajardo 15 with 12 rebounds, and rookie David Semerad, a match for Abueva physicality-wise, came off the bench for 10 points and 4 rebounds.
He had 4 when SMB used a 13-2 run sparked by a Lutz 3-pointer to turn a 63-57 deficit into a 70-65 advantage which the Beermen never relinquished.
Right in the middle of that 4-minute SMB assault to seize the upper hand was the blood-filled encounter between Santos and Abueva and a tussle involving Semerad and Alaska hotshot Dondon Hontiveros, which drew San Miguel coach Leo Austria and Alaska mentor Alex Compton into the fray as pacifiers.
“We were encouraged by their defense the last time,” said Austria. “This time, in spite of their high intensity, we were able to break it. Arwind dictated the tempo of the game when he physically faced off with Abueva.”
Austria’s game-time decision to stay with point guard Chris Ross in the crunch, instead of ace playmaker Alex Cabagnot, whose numbers have dipped in the series and appears stifled by Alaska’s pressure defense, was a big factor in Game 2.
Ross started the opener and was a key when SMB broke away in the first quarter. But he was on the bench when the Aces came back and never got the chance to save the Beermen in overtime.
He was all over Jvee Casio two days ago, however, pouring all of his 10 points in the fourth quarter as SMB kept Alaska at bay with another 13-2 run to kick off the period.
Playing 14 less minutes, a fresh Fajardo hammered his way to 7 points in the last 12 minutes while Lutz had 6 and Santos 5. The 6-foot-10 MVP apparently hurt his mid-section, however, and walked gingerly to the locker room with a hand on his lower back a minute ahead of the final buzzer.
“We had some of our breakdowns and we got killed on the glass (52-30),” said Compton. “We gave up too many easy shots; we have to do better. We stole Game One but that doesn’t change the fact that we’re still facing Goliath.”
Compton pointed to a glaring disparity in fouls called and free throws awarded, with SMB the recipient of 25 charities (from 32 Alaska fouls) and the Aces getting a measly 8 ( and 23 SMB calls).
Austria refused to categorically say that they have found the answer to Alaska’s pressure defense and double-teaming on Fajardo. But he did let on that a “simple adjustment” they made has allowed Fajardo to be closer to the basket once he gets the ball.
SMB committed 23 turnovers, 6 more than Alaska.
Much of Game 3 will still revolve around Alaska’s defense and SMB trying to shred it apart, and Fajardo (0 assist) shaking off whatever ails him and getting his teammates, especially the shooters, involved with kick-out passes against the double- and triple-team.
Alaska will need more second half production from Hontiveros, who started hot with back-to-back triples but faded as the game wore on, going scoreless in the second and fourth quarters. Forward Vic Manuel also shot just 1 of 8 in Game 2.