Manila, Philippines – San Miguel Beer ended 14 years of fruitless campaign in the PBA Philippine Cup last night by turning back Alaska in a dramatic Game 7 of the Finals, 80-78, clinching its 20th championship overall in front of a crowd of 22,511 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Arwind Santos, later named Petron Sprint 4T-PBA Press Corps Finals MVP, saved his best for last, draining a huge 3-point shot with 43 seconds remaining to erase a 78-76 Alaska lead.
The Aces had rallied from 23 points down in the first half by outscoring the Beermen, 32-14, in the third period, a roaring comeback that continued into the final 12 minutes, with Alaska using an 11-0 run to go ahead, 74-68, less than 4 minutes left.
But SMB, which last won the PH Cup in 2001, refused to die a third time against an opponent which came back from 20-plus point deficits in Games 1 and 3 and from 14 points in Game 6.
Free throws by June Mar Fajardo, a fast break layup by Chris Lutz and a tip-in by Ronald Tubid cut the deficit to 76-74, a little over 2 minutes to go.
Sonny Thoss made it 78-74 in the return play but Lutz hit two foul shots to make it a 2-point Aces lead. JVee Casio then went awry on a 3-point attempt and the ball went out of bounds at the baseline after touching RJ Jasul.
That set up Santos, playing for 47 minutes, with perhaps the biggest 3-pointer of his career.
Probably already running on empty, Santos managed to elevate high enough to release a high arcing 3-pointer in front of Calvin Abueva that ignited a flame underneath the Beermen and drained the fight out of the Aces.
Alaska’s courageous effort wasn’t for naught just yet that time after Tubid called for a timeout the Beermen didn’t have with 6.4 seconds left and the Aces trailing, 80-78, resulting in a technical.
But Dondon Hontiveros, one of the Aces’ best free throw shooters, missed and in the scramble, Calvin Abueva forced an exhausted Fajardo (45 minutes) into a jump, 2.8 seconds on the clock, giving Alaska a final gasp.
The ball went to Sonny Thoss who handed off to Casio for the potential game-winning 3 that fell short at the buzzer as the Beermen mobbed Santos at midcourt in celebration.
Santos finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds, while Fajardo had 21 and 25 rebounds, the first local player to post 20-20 numbers in a championship Game 7.
“This is unbelievable,” said SMB coach Leo Austria, who took over the Beermen during the off-season.
“From the start, we knew it would be hard to beat Alaska. It was a testament of our players’ character to be able to recover after losing that big lead.”
Alex Compton, the Aces mentor who once played as an import of the Welcoat team coached by Austria, said he has mixed emotions over the loss.
“It’s a mixture of pride and frustration, that’s what I’m feeling right now,” Compton said even as he rued the Aces’ 15 missed free throws, none more crucial than the one Hontiveros clanged.
The first 24 minutes was San Miguel all the way.
After trailing early, 7-4, the Beermen went on an 11-0 run as Arwind Santos buried 3 straight 3-point shots against the Alaska man-zone defense as SMB took a 21-12 lead in the first quarter.
A 9-2 surge to start the second period made it 29-14 for SMB before Santos hit a triple with 4:07 left, giving them a 21-point spread that was almost immediately erased by Ronald Tubid’s triple, 48-25.
The halftime score was 48-27 as SMB connected on 5 3-pointers in the first 12 minutes, setting the tone for the first half rout that followed.
SMB pounded the ball inside to Fajardo at every opportunity and the 6-foot-10 center didn’t disappoint, scoring 15 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. His kick-out passes against the double-team were instrumental in Santos’ hitting 12 points and Tubid and Alex Cabagnot 7 points each.
The Beermen went 7 of 18 from beyond the 3-point arc, demolishing Alaska’s defensive rotation with swift ball movement to the open man.
Starved off touches for most of the series, Fajardo had his fill this time, his two turnovers consequently the result of his eagerness to challenge one-on-one the Aces’ multiple defense.
Usually timid even in the face of borderline provocation, Fajardo likewise refused to turn the other cheek, engaging Alaska backup center Sam Eman in an exchange of shoves which drew both players technical fouls halfway in the second quarter.
A big factor in SMB’s first quarter breakaway were two quick fouls six minutes into the game on Sonny Thoss, whichy forced Aces coach Alex Compton to bring in Eman and Calvin Abueva earlier than he may have wanted to.