Freddie Roach couldn’t have come up with a better game plan, and Manny Pacquiao couldn’t have executed any better.
Kia Motors, without fouled-out 7-foot-4 import PJ Ramos in the last 4:57, claimed only the second win in its young franchise last night but what a victory it was, coming at the expense of PBA Philippine Cup champion San Miguel Beer, 88-78, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The stunning upset snapped a two-game losing start for the Carnival in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup and served as a chilling reminder to the Beermen that the second jewel of a projected Grand Slam finish will be even more elusive than the first.
SMB captured the first conference crown after beating Alaska in a dramatic Game 7 a few weeks ago, with former MVP Arwind Santos hitting the biggest 3-point shot of the championship series in the waning seconds of the winner-take-all match.
Santos was nowhere near that deadly form against Kia, going 7 of 23 from the floor, including 0 of 10 from 3-point range. SMB was an unbelievable 1 of 24 overall beyond the arc, with Alex Cabagnot 0 of 5, Chris Lutz 0 of 2 and Marcio Lassiter 0 of 2.
Ronald Tubid accounted for SMB’s lone 3 but he clanged 2 consecutive triples in the final 5:59 in the middle of a 10-1 Kia run that extended a 71-69 edge to 81-70 on a buzzer-beating layup by Michael Burtscher, 2:47 to go.
While the victory came two games late of Kia’s maiden triumph over fellow expansion team Blackwater in the Philippine Cup during the opening of the 40th PBA season last October at the 50,000-capacity Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan, it nonetheless acquired as much significance because of the quality of the Carnival’s opponent and the fact that Pacquiao, their heart and soul, was half a globe away.
Their behemoth Puerto Rican reinforcement also abandoned the cause two-thirds into the fourth quarter by picking up his last foul on a tentative contact on SMB’s Ronald Roberts under the Beermen basket.
Ramos had 22 points and 8 rebounds but was scoreless in the last 12 minutes when June Mar Fajardo poured 10 of his 18 points in a gallant effort to bring SMB back from as many as 18 points in the third before fouling out himself under the 2-minute mark.
Roberts, who arrived only last Sunday, was hardly impressive in debuting with 18 points and 22 rebounds, scoring just one free throw in the final period when Kia’s LA Revilla had 6 of his 12 and veteran Leo Avenido, rookie Kyle Pascual and Burtscher each had 4.
Kia assistant coach Chito Victolero, a former Mapua Cardinal, said Pacquiao, who has missed the Carnival’s first three games now, had called during halftime and again after the game.
“He reminded us about our defense and the need to sustain our energy,” said Victolero, who suited up for Sta. Lucia Realty in the PBA. “After the game naman, nag-congratulate siya at sinabi na pabalik na raw siya.”
As special as beating San Miguel was, Victolero said the Carnival harbor no illusions on where they stand against the league’s powerhouse teams.
“Siguro na off-timing lang namin ang San Miguel dahil kaka-champion lang nila at one week pa lang sila nagpa-praktis; kakarating din lang ng import nila,” said Victolero. “Blessing na lang sa’min na kami una nilang kalaban.”
KIA 88 – Ramos 22, Revilla 12, Yee 11, Cawaling 10, Avenido 9, Pascual 8, Dehesa 5, Burtscher 4, Buensuceso 4, Poligrates 3, Webb 0, Padilla 0, Alvarez 0, Ighalo 0.
SAN MIGUEL 78 – Fajardo 18, Roberts 18, Santos 14, Lutz 8, Tubid 7, Ross 5, Lassiter 4, Cabagnot 2, Pascual 2, Maierhoder 0, Kramer 0, Omolon 0, Fortuna 0, Semerad 0.
Quarters: 21-17, 46-35, 67-53, 88-78.