Manila, Philippines – Alaska coach Alex Compton likes to think of the San Miguel Beermen as Goliath and his Aces as David. For a while, the reference stuck.
Twice in the PBA Philippine Cup Finals, David the giant-killer found a way to offset great odds against an imposing opponent, rallying from 20-point plus deficits in Games 1 and 3 and grabbing a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 series.
Then a ticked Goliath came back with five of his buddies for Game 4 and buried the brash competition under a hail of baskets. Suddenly a slingshot with a stone wasn’t enough anymore to stop the advancing marauders.
SMB coach Leo Austria said after the roaring 88-70 victory on Wednesday that they have learned their lessons from two previous blown big margins. Compton and the Aces apparently learned theirs as well.
“Gotta find me five more shiny stones for next game,” Compton said with a flicker of smile after the Beermen, with six in double-digit scoring, led by as many as 29 points in the third quarter, thwarted an Alaska fight back in the fourth and leveled the championship at two games apiece at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Arming more Alaska players to back up Calvin Abueva should be a good idea.
While a reawakened Alex Cabagnot (22 points), Ronald Tubid (13), PBA Best Player of the Conference June Mar Fajardo (11 and 11 rebounds), Arwind Santos (11 and 14), Chris Lutz (11) and Marcio Lassiter (10) were bombing away unchecked, the Aces, in a one-sided encounter, had no other tallying more than 9 points and 6 rebounds after the firebrand Abueva’s 22 and 7.
That should be unacceptable to the Aces going to the pivotal Game 5 at 7 tonight at the Big Dome.
“I got to do a better job of trying to find a way to get us some shots. I can’t keep saying ‘defense, defense, defense’ and not get us some shots,” he said. “Hindi na puwede yung ganon.”
Compton took just a few seconds during the post-game interview to glance at the stats sheet for the numbers that made him frown: Dondon Hontiveros took only three 3-point attempts, RJ Jazul 4 while JVee Casio took just 2, missing both. Casio was scoreless for the first time in his 4-year career.
In contrast, Cabagnot fired away with 10 attempts (hitting 4), Marcio Lassiter 7 (making 2) and Santos 6 (converting 3).
Getting the Aces gunners (2 of 13 threes) open looks should help define how this evening’s match will play out.
The Aces may also wish to rethink the wisdom of double-teaming Fajardo at the low block every time and leaving an SMB shooter open.
While the strategy proved effective in two of the first three games as Fajardo tried to force his way to the basket and SMB shot 8 of 32 from 3-point range in an 88-82 loss in Game 1 (Santos, Cabagnot and Ronald Pascual combined for 6 of 20) and 9 of 30 in treys in a 78-70 defeat in Game 3 (Santos 3 of 11 triples and Cabagnot 2 of 6 field goals), the scheme got shredded in Game 4 where the Beermen buried 6 of 13 threes in the first quarter alone. They went 12 of 33 overall.
That made life a lot easier for the big fellow.
Fajardo played just 27 minutes, his lowest exposure in the series, and took just five shots, making four, as he happily waited for the double-team to come along before giving up the kick-out pass which triggered SMB’s ball movement to the open man.
An unspent Fajardo for the rest of the series spells huge trouble for Alaska, and a choice has to be made here.
Granting the Beermen might find it difficult to replicate their prolifi c shooting in Game 5, the Aces need to decide if they want to risk getting torched once more or if it’d be better to send Sonny Thoss, Sam Eman, Eric Menk and maybe Gabby Espinas, if he is healthy, to do the honors on Fajardo one-on-one in order to keep all bases covered.
It would be hell for Thoss and Alaska’s frontline, and Fajardo’s numbers could soar. But the alternative is having five snipers coming at the Aces from five different directions.
SMB also came up with an interesting move in Game 4, getting Fajardo the ball outside the paint and dragging Thoss with him. That left the space in front of the basket vulnerable for attack to the Beermen slashers.
Cabagnot at first five after having Chris Ross play the point as a starter reaped dividends for SMB. A 2-point guard setup also paid well against the Alaska press, especially after the Beermen saw Ross throw away possession in four consecutive plays in the second quarter while trying to protect a 33-16 first period lead.
With the series now reduced to a best-of-3, the rebounding duel is likewise expected to play another major role in Game 5 after SMB dominated the boards two days ago, 53-35, including 16-10 under the offensive glass where the Beermen collected 19 points to the Aces’ 4.
Game 5 could be where the war is won.
So far, SMB has succeeded only in tying the series. But with the way the Beermen raged and bellowed in Game 4, the Aces will have to come to the Big Dome tonight armed not only with a slingshot and five extra stones, but with sufficient firepower so as not to depend too much on their dwindling comeback magic every time.
There would be no slaying Goliath, if such is the case.