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PBA: Beermen seek title

San Miguel's Alex Cabagnot shoots over Alaska's Vic Manuel and Dondon Hontiveros  during game 5 PBA action finals at Smart Araneta Coliseum.   Photo by Tony Pionilla

Game Today (Smart Araneta Coliseum)
7:30 p.m. – San Miguel vs Alaska (Game 6)

For JVee Casio and the Alaska Aces, everything comes down to Game 6 tonight.

Scoreless in the last two games of the PBA Philippine Cup Finals against powerhouse San Miguel Beer, Casio has one game left to back his coach’s faith in him and come to the aid of his beleaguered teammates.

That’s at 7:30 p.m. when the Beermen, holding a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 series, gun for their 20th PBA title and first PH Cup crown in 14 years at the Smart Araneta Coliseum against an Aces team which may have taken a 15-year pursuit of an all-Filipino championship as far as it could go.

“We’re here to win a championship and we’re given an opportunity, so why not?” said SMB coach Leo Austria when asked if he sees the series ending sooner than later.

Behind June Mar Fajardo and Arwind Santos, the league’s most recent MVPs, the Beermen went toe-to-toe with the Aces before taking Game 5 last Friday, 93-88, marking a pivotal turn in the finals where SMB had lost Games 1 and 3 despite posting 20-point plus leads in both instances.

Now the multi-colored balloons are poised to rain down, signalling the coming end of Alaska’s mighty push for a 15th PBA title. Unless, of course, Casio resurfaces and provides the missing ingredient in Alaska’s glacial game – his torrid outside shot.

Then the Finals reaches an explosive climax with a winner-take-all Game 7 on Wednesday.

But for the moment, the Aces have their work cut out for them: How to get the rest of the team playing on the same high-energy level as Calvin Abueva and how to get Casio out of his scoring funk – fast.

Alex Compton, the Aces coach, refused to disclose during the post-game interview if Casio has been playing hurt.

“Not that I’m aware of,” Compton snapped.

Toning down a little, he said: “I have a very family approach to the team. I know you guys (sportswriters) have jobs to do so I apologize. But sometimes there’s some stuff that’s family business, so I don’t always disclose everything. I hope you guys understand.”

Compton then guaranteed: “Jvee will be fine.”

A source bared however that Casio, 0 of 10 in Games 4 and 5, hadn’t been the past few days.

“He’s playing sick,” the insider said. “Nung Game 4 nga, late na siya nakalabas ng dugout for the third quarter kasi me lagnat siya, barado ilong at me LBM.”

Casio, who went 0 of 6 from 3-point range in Game 5 despite encouragement to shoot more, including Alaska’s last shot at the buzzer, was reportedly still under the weather that night.

“He still wasn’t feeling well. Baka raw flu virus,” said the source. “Apat pa nga yata sa team ang me sakit e.”

The former De La Salle star is not expected to sit out tonight’s game, however, no matter what.

“He will fight to the end,” the source said.

Near or far, the end is a fate the Aces can put on hold only if Abueva, who has been physically battling the Beermen by his lonesome on many occasions, taking on Santos, rookie David Semerad, Ronald Tubid and whoever SMB sends his way, finds somebody else to help him keep at bay Goliath, as Compton fancies the Beermen.

“We’re still David,” he said of another Biblical reference.

Compton also harped on the 40 free throws given SMB (against Alaska’s 26).

“We committed some silly fouls but I don’t think 40 free throws came from those silly fouls,” he said, casting some cloud on the calls in Game 5.

The Aces mentor believes he has a valid point and maybe he does. But the stats sheet also revealed that Abueva, whose daredevil drive is his bread-and-butter play, was awarded 14 free throws for his efforts, one more than the 6-foot-10 Fajardo, while no other Alaska player, after Sonny Thoss (5), had more than 2 charities, indicative perhaps of a lesser commitment to attack the basket and get to the foul line.

Alaska needs Casio to connect from the outside to give SMB some matchup problems. But if he remains too ill to deliver tonight, then the Aces may have to give RJ Jasul longer minutes than the 22:58 he had in Game 5.

Jasul hit three 3-point shots that evening in a red-hot outing but surprisingly played 4 less minutes than Casio and got off just 4 field goal attempts overall.

The Aces’ best shooter, equal even to Dondon Hontiveros, needs to get all the green light there is to help Alaska’s cause. Otherwise, the scent of blood, which has brought the Beermen at the doorstep of a long-denied PBA title two days ago, could lead them right through before midnight is over.