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PBA: Alaska tries to finish off Star

Alaska's Vic Manuel rams into Star Hotshot's Marqus Blakely  on his drive to the basket in this bit of action during the second game of their best of five series in the PBA Governors' Cup, Friday, July 3, 2015 at the at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. Photo by Ernie U. Sarmiento

Game Today (Smart Araneta)
5 p.m. – Star vs Alaska

At the expense of their former coach, the Alaska Aces seek to continue their winning tradition in the post-triangle era.

Holding a 2-0 lead in the PBA Governors’ Cup best-of-5 semifinals, the Aces hope to put the struggling Hotshots out of their misery with a death blow at 5 p.m. today at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, an achievement that would afford them the luxury of rest as they await resolution of the other semis pairing between San Miguel Beer and Rain or Shine.

A sweep of the series would bring back sweet memories of the 2013 Commissioner’s Cup semifinals where Alaska, then coached by Luigi Trillo, dropped Game 1 of the best-of-5 against Tim Cone and the San Mig Super Coffee Mixers but went on to win the next three games to arrange a titular showdown with Barangay Ginebra San Miguel.

In the best-of-7 finals, Alaska swept Barangay Ginebra to capture its 14th title overall and first without Cone, who left the Aces in 2011 after more than two decades and 13 championships.

Now the Aces, led by Alex Compton, who took over after Trillo stepped down shortly, knock at the door again, armed with enough firepower to break down all walls should the Hotshots decide to make a determined last stand.

It is uncertain whether Star, formerly Purefoods, B-Meg and San Mig Super Coffee, has anything left in its depleted arsenal to battle with after engaging Alaska on two different fronts and absorbing stinging setbacks both times.

In Game 1, the Aces fell behind by 18 points late in the second quarter but launched an epic third quarter counterattack to run away with a 97-91 victory.

Then last Friday, Star again built an early advantage but failed to gather any momentum as Alaska bombarded the Hotshots from all directions, keeping the steady pressure on and even bringing in shock troopers Noy Baclao and Chris Exciminiano to deliver clutch blows in a 95-74 romp.

Cone had pleaded to his players in Game 2 to find the strength within to fight back but was met mostly by mute response in the wake of a relentless assault from a well-organized and physically superior opponent that has shown patience, intelligence, teamwork and a genuine delight at what they are doing.

Yet Compton keeps his foot on the pedal.

“Nothing has been accomplished,” he said at the post-game interview. “Our work in the semis won’t be finished until we win that third game so there’s nothing to celebrate. We have practice tomorrow.”

Johnny Abarrientos, a vital cog during Alaska’s glory years with Cone but who now is also on the other side of the fence, said it’s evident his former team “wants it more.”

Speaking to Interaksyon.com’s Rey Joble, Abarrientos said: ““It’s not about the stats. It’s not about who score the most points. It’s about your desire to win. You have to win it, possession by possession. We’ve got to play with pride, hindi lang para sa sarili namin, para na rin doon sa mga taong naniniwala sa amin na kaya naming manalo. Marami sa kanila malalayo pa pingaggalingang lugar at nagbayad para panoorin lang kami. Nagpakahirap kaming manalo sa GlobalPort ng dalawang sunod para makapasok dito. Sayang naman yung pinaghirapan namin kung hindi kami lalaban ng maayos.”

One of the PBA’s 40 Greatest, Abarrientos, who won a Grand Slam with Alaska in 1996, is also fully aware of what is at stake.

“This is our last chance to defend one of the four straight titles we won. But we have to win the game every possession,” he said.

The Purefoods franchise completed the league’s fifth Grand Slam last year, joining Crispa (1976, 1983), San Miguel Beer (1989) and Alaska as the only teams to sweep a three-conference season. The Hotshots, however, have lost the first two titles (to San Miguel and Talk ‘N Text) and are in danger of being stripped of the third.

Although no PBA team has come back from a 0-3 deficit to win a best-of-7 series, several ballclubs have overcome a 0-2 disadvantage in a best-of-5 affair. Star now shoots for a spot in that short list.