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PBA: Brace for epic ending

Junemar Fajardo, Eric Menk, Sonny Thoss

San Miguel, Alaska in winner-take-all match

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

In a PBA Philippine Cup Finals marked by epic comebacks and bizarre meltdowns, San Miguel Beer and Alaska clash for a truly defining moment in championship history and Game 7 folklore tonight at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

A sell-out crowd is expected at 7 p.m. as the Beermen and the Aces shoot for all the marbles and an emphatic climax to the best-of-7 series that has seen momentum shift from one side to the other.

Alaska won Games 1, 3 and 6 after fighting back from double-digit deficits, while San Miguel took Games 2, 4 and 5 after making the necessary adjustments.

The Beermen went ahead, 3-2, in the series and were up by 14 halfway in the first quarter of Game 6 Sunday before suffering yet another major breakdown, allowing the Aces to rally behind Dondon Hontiveros, a former SMB player, and a reinvigorated JVee Casio and tie the series.

Hontiveros forced his ex-ballclub to see what it lost in trading him by hitting one dagger 3-point shot after another, while Casio bounced back from severe stomach flu which left him drained in Game 4s and 5, ending his two-game scoreless spell and helping the Aces set up the winner-take-all match.

The Beermen are gunning for their 20th PBA crown and their first Philippine Cup title since 2001, while the Aces are eyeing their 15th league championship and first PH Cup since 2000.

Redemption may be the other thing in the minds of two Alaska players.

Back in the 2009 Philippine Cup Finals, Alaska went up 3-2 against Talk ‘N Text only to lose the last two games. Sonny Thoss and team captain Tony dela Cruz are the only ones left from that ill-starred lineup and the two vets will be leading the way when the latest-edition Aces hope to consign the recent past to faded memory.

They will get a lot of help, from firebrand Calvin Abueva and Cyrus Baguio to Vic Manuel, RJ Jazul, Eric Menk and rookie Chris Banchero, not to mention Hontiveros and Casio.

Alex Compton, the Aces coach, has long ascribed Old Testament references to the finals, fancying San Miguel as Goliath, after the giant Philistine warrior, and Alaska as David, after the Hebrew shepherd boy who slew Goliath.

San Miguel had Alaska against the wall early in Game 6 but lowered its guard and paid the price. Now the Aces have a clear shot at reprising the role of the famous biblical character and at turning Compton into a prophet.

The Beermen have only themselves to blame for letting Games 1 and 3, which they led by as many as 20 points both, slip through their fingers. Periods of mediocrity interspersed with flashes of brilliance never stood a chance against Alaska’s extended moments of commitment and organized play.

In Game 7, San Miguel will face a true test of character, something Beermen coach Leo Austria has apparently found wanting from his team of superstars.

Only by winning can June Mar Fajardo, Arwind Santos, Marcio Lassiter, Chris Lutz, Alex Cabagnot and Ronald Tubid, the core of the Beermen, lay claim to their heritage, and only by putting Alaska away in this final hour of reckoning can they regain the respect they so wantonly threw away early in the series.

Breaking Alaska’s vaunted pressure defense and getting the ball to Fajardo two feet from the basket will be SMB’s main goal. Denying both, on the other hand, will be Alaska’s mission.

It will only be the 3rd Game 7 in 17 previous conferences although 23 teams overall have stretched a title showdown to the limit before after falling behind 3-2. Alaska, interestingly, accounts for 2 of those 3 seventh game appearances.