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PBA: Beermen, Aces in grudge rematch

On to the Finals, San Miguel Beer against Alaska . Alaska Aces' Coach Alex Compton and SMB's Coach Leo Austria. Photo by Ernie U. Sarmiento

Game Today (Mall of Asia Arena)
7 p.m. – Alaska vs San Miguel

The thunderclaps and heavy rains raging outside face stiff competition with the brewing tempest inside the Mall of Asia Arena tonight when PBA Philippine Cup finalists San Miguel Beer and Alaska clash once more this time for the season-ending Governors’ Cup championship.

Game 1 of the best-of-7 finals is at 7 p.m., with the Aces, armed with five days of rest after completing a 3-game sweep of defending champion Purefoods-Star in their semifinal series, out to take the first big step in a mission of revenge against the team that broke their hearts and shattered their dreams by stealing Game 7 two conference championships ago.

Ahead by two with the game clock winding down in the winner-take-all match of the Philippine Cup Finals last January, the Aces got the shock of their lives when Santos, who passed up initially on taking a 3-point shot, launched a way-out triple after getting the ball back, keying San Miguel’s stunning 80-78 victory.

Now the Aces are back to claim payback, with the battered Beermen, who needed two games to put away the Meralco Bolts in the quarterfinal playoffs and four extremely-physical contests to finish off Rain or Shine in the semis, left with only 24 hours to wash off the adrenaline from their Game 4 triumph and recharge themselves with championship fervor against the league’s most lethal force.

“I’m concerned with our energy if we will have enough to do battle with Alaska since we only have a day to rest and prepare,” said SMB coach Leo Austria after their 117-110 victory over ROS Wednesday night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

“But this team has the heart of a champion and as great a team as Alaska is, there are many ways to challenge them,” Austria added. “If both our imports can cancel each other out, then I think, with an all-Filipino lineup, we have a very good chance competing against them.”

Austria may be asking too much from Arizona Reid.

The SMB import exploded for 38 points against ROS and Wendell McKines two days ago, 10 in the breakaway first quarter and 10 in the third, and grabbed 11 rebounds to complement 4 assists. But he was less than stellar against Alaska’s Romeo Travis when their teams met in Panabo City in Davao del Norte on June 20.

Travis had 32 points on 12 of 21 shooting and hauled down 10 rebounds as the Aces won coasting, 82-77. Alaska decided the game outright in the first 12 minutes, leading 23-10. It was 47-31 at halftime a 21-point lead at one stretch before SMB reduced the deficit somewhat in the second half.

Reid, on the other hand, had an atrocious evening, going 7 of 24 from the field in tallying 17 points. He had 12 rebounds but missed all 8 triples he took, finding parallel with his 2 of 10 rainbow shooting against Rain or Shine.

Who, in fact, cancelled each other out were SMB center Junemar Fajardo and Alaska firebrand Calvin Abueva, both contributing 12 points to their teams’ effort. Fajardo’s 12 rebounds went to naught though as Alaska dominated the boards, 60-44.

The opener of the championship could follow the same pattern, with Alaska taking advantage of San Miguel’s exhaustion and relief from surviving the playoffs and pouring on the heat from the start.

Barely able to run with hobbled Rain or Shine, the Beermen could drag their leaden feet even more against the Aces, who are expected to apply heavy defensive pressure on the SMB guards to force them to speed up the game and become vulnerable to turnovers.

If SMB could resist the urge to drag race in the fast lane where the roaring Aces would ultimately ran them over, the Beermen, playing a more deliberate half-court game and keeping their starters, especially Reid and Fajardo, a little more fresh in the fourth quarter, could put themselves in position for an even earlier steal than Game 7 six months ago.

Alex Compton, the Aces coach in charge of giving Alaska its second title in the post-Tim Cone era, left no doubt as to how they intend to deny SMB just that.

“I know that we’re gonna play really hard from jump ball ’til the end. We’re gonna come after them, hard,” Compton told Rappler.com. “We can’t be passive. We need to be aggressive.”

One inclined to understate their strength under ordinary circumstances, Compton puts the Aces on equal footing with the Beermen in the finals.

“I feel similarly how I did at the start of the Purefoods series,” he said. “It’s gonna be two rams at the very top of the mountain, dalawang matigas ang ulo, going right at it, butting heads and see who headbutts harder, for superiority. They’re good and I think we’re good too.”