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PBA: Beermen wary of Aces

Calvin AbuevaGame Today (Smart Araneta)
5 p.m. – San Miguel vs Alaska

Alex Compton, the Alaska mentor, owned up after Game 1 Friday that he was “outcoached.” Import Romeo Travis unabashedly admitted they “came unprepared.” The worse San Miguel Beer could do after that 30-point blowout win is to get cocky and strut into Game 2 this afternoon believing the Aces will stay that way the rest of the series.

If the Beermen heed the admonition of their wise-for-his-years 6-foot-10 center Junemar Fajardo not to get complacent, Game 2 of the PBA Governors’ Cup Finals could go down the wire with either side getting a shot at winning. If not, then chalk one up for the league’s best comeback team.

Gametime is at 5 p.m., with the best-of-7 championship returning to the Smart Araneta Coliseum after a brief foray at the Mall of Asia Arena where SMB dominated all facets of the opener, 108-78.

“Kahit 30 points o one point, same lang yan at kayang bumawi ng Alaska. Di kami dapat makampante,” Fajardo, who had 18 points and 17 rebounds as he outdueled Aces veteran Sonny Thoss (12 points, 8 rebounds), told PBA.ph.

Leo Austria, the SMB coach, was likewise profuse in cautioning his players against admiring themselves too much in the mirror after handing the previously impervious Aces one of their worst beatings in the Compton era.

“Panalo ka ng tambak o hindi it’s still one game,” he said. “I am expecting them to bounce back in the second game. They’re very cohesive and very disciplined. I don’t think na kinalawang sila. Maybe yung sunod-sunod na laro namin, na-maintain namin yung competitiveness namin.”

Compton was inconsolable after the game, beating himself up for the crushing defeat.

“No stats for being outcoached,” he said.

Maybe there is. The Aces may have stayed a bit too long with ineffective guards Jayvee Casio (24:44 minutes) and RJ Jasul (20:06), who combined for 3 of 13 from the floor, while keeping on the bench curdling forward Vic Manuel (4 of 5 in just 12:49) and Calvin Abueva (3 shots in 17:29).

Abueva and Manuel coming in halfway through the first quarter has been great for Alaska, providing the Aces the rocket boost to ignite their engine into overdrive. But their belated presence was exploited by the Beermen Friday, with SMB turning on the heat early and keeping the offense warm with momentum-fueled clutch shots even after the two Alaska firebrand had checked in.

Starting Abueva and Manuel to give the Aces a jackrabbit start instead of a peloton-like crawl is an option at their disposal. Another is bringing in 6-foot-9 Samigue Eman to help contain Fajardo. While no offensive threat like Eric Menk, Eman, with his size, could give the SMB big fella fits at the post and allow Thoss more freedom in the scoring end.

All up to the Aces though.

The mystery of Travis’ 6 of 14 shooting against the smaller Arizona Reid is Game 1’s most baffling aspect however.

Prior to the series, Austria said he’d be happy if both imports cancel each other out to give his more explosive local lineup a decided edge against the defense-oriented Aces starting crew.

Reid not only cancelled Travis out, he practically erased the Alaska import from the equation by unloading 32 points with 6 rebounds and 7 assists while keeping Travis out of sync with his aggressiveness on both ends of the floor.

“I wouldn’t call it rust,” Travis told Spin.ph. “We just came in unprepared. They came in more aggressive than us offensively and defensively and it showed. I also wouldn’t call it lack of energy. It was just mistakes. We made a lot of mistakes defensively.”

So unprepared were the Aces – if that were the case – that they even caught Austria by surprise.

“Hindi ko rin alam kung ano nangyari,” Austria said. “Ang expect ko, it will be a hard game for us.”

It should have been. The Aces just made it easy.

But no more excuses and playing the blame game. Perhaps now the true Alaska team, the one that flattened the field in the elimination and went unbeaten in the quarters and the semis, will show up, not the outcoached and unprepared one. Then this championship series could yet leave up to the promise of the battle both teams waged with fire and venom during the Philippine Cup Finals six months ago.

Thirty-point losses in a championship, after all, like leftover milk, leave a bad taste in the mouth.