The Comeback Kids of the PBA Governors’ Cup have just been dealt a dose of their own medicine, and it could only get worse.
From where they sit, has the moment come then for the Alaska Aces to shed off the image and assume the role of a pacesetter with an ultra-strong first five instead of testing the limits of their resilience by having their top guns come off the bench to put out fires rather than start them?
That bears waiting, but hopefully, for their sake, not too long.
And while they consider, if ever, starting Calvin Abueva, Dondon Hontiveros and Vic Manuel and leaving them inside until they gasp for air and beg to be brought out, it may also be high time for the Aces to forget about corralling San Miguel Beer center Junemar Fajardo and focus instead on Arizona Reid and SMB’s gunners, especially Marcio Lassiter.
What does Alaska have to lose in shaking things up at this point? The Beermen hold a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 championship and the Aces, who appear to have chosen the wrong poison to ingest in both games, can kiss any hope of getting back in the finals if they go down 0-3 tomorrow.
“It will be very difficult to motivate your players if you’re zero-three,” said SMB coach Leo Austria Sunday, rubbing it in after they dropped a 13-0 bomb in the last 2:39 to spill Alaska all over the Smart Araneta Coliseum floor. “What will you tell your players?”
That’s for Aces mentor Alex Compton to figure out should they fall into that hole from which no team has come out from to win the series. For now, Alaska has major decisions to make.
After converting 10 three-point shots in a 108-78 blowout win in Game 1 last Friday and a whopping 17 in Game 2, which they stole right under the Aces’ noses, 103-95, the rim probably resembles an ocean to the Beermen at this point.
Do the Aces risk Lassiter, whose five 3-pointers two nights ago matched Alaska’s total output, dropping 10 the way he did against Rain or Shine in the semis? Or Reid, 0 of 4 in 3s in Game 1 but 4 of 11 in Game 2, getting into even hotter groove? Or Alex Cabagnot (5 of 11 so far), Chris Lutz (4 of 6) and Arwind Santos (4 of 10) finding their range from the corners or the wings at the same time with Game 3 at stake?
(Heck! Alaska twice disrespected supposedly non-shooting point guard Chris Ross to help out on Fajardo and Reid and twice Ross burned them by swishing cold-blooded 3s that revealed yet another facet of SMB’s outside offense that no longer can be ignored.)
Or do they shut them down, coax Best Import winner Romeo Travis to raise his production to approximate Reid’s, and allow the 6-foot-10 Fajardo to slip into the big cracks every now and then?
The gambit has been done before with varying results, teams zeroing in on opposing shooters while letting inside-scoring imports like Gilbey’s Gin’s Lew Massey (85 points) and Ginebra San Miguel’s Michael Hackett (103 points) cavort under the basket on single coverage.
Those are extreme numbers, to be sure, but they do exist. And what other choice is left?
Fajardo took 11 shots in Game 1 with 8 of 10 free throws, finishing with 18 points, and 13 attempts with 10 of 14 charities in the second game for 16 – big baskets, for sure, but nowhere as backbreaking as Lassiter’s consecutive 3s from the same spot in the last two minutes of Game 2. San Eman, Eric Menk, even Vic Manuel, and, at crunch time, Sonny Thoss can work on Fajardo one-on-one, giving him the outside shot or having him bleed for his points from the line, but the double-team may have to be abandoned.
SMB was able to take 28 triples in Game 1 and an astounding 40 in Game 2 as a result of ballscreens and double-teams. Up to Alaska to continue beingsitting ducks in Game 3 or go after the Beermen snipers and bring the fight to them right from the onset while leaving Fajardo pretty much alone.
Cabagnot’s court-generalship and SMB’s press break have negated Alaska’s full-court pressure D, and the Beermen’s own 3-point defense has held the Aces’ shooters to 25 percent (5 of 20 both times) from beyond the arc. More teeth may be needed on the Aces’ backcourt.
Jayvee Casio is too timid to disrupt Cabagnot; maybe RJ Jasul or Chris Banchero can do a more physical job. Abueva, if his sore thumb allows it, and Manuel, meantime, crave to be workhorses on both ends and ought to be allowed to go wild, not be locked for long stretches in the paddocks.
As for Hontiveros, well, Compton may have to sit down with the guy.
The series tethers on the edge of a knife for the Aces. Either they get off it or suffer the consequence of lingering too long.