Game Today (Smart Araneta)
5 p.m. – Leo Awards
7 p.m. – San Miguel vs Alaska
(San Miguel leads series 3-0)
Leo Austria, the San Miguel Beer coach, points to Arwind Santos’ chase-down and rejection of a Jayvee Casio fast break layup in the final three minutes of Game 3 Wednesday as the “game-changer” that sealed a 96-89 win over the Alaska Aces and a 3-0 lead in the PBA Governors’ Cup Finals.
Doubtless, it was, although Austria may also want to review the game video and look a little earlier at two distinct plays, one involving Gabby Espinas and the other Ronald Tubid, which had “Don’t mess with SMB!” written all over them and defined clearly the lines separating the two teams.
Taken together, these two incidents set the tone for SMB’s closing rampage and sparked the decisive 13-2 run that followed as the Beermen, for the second time in the best-of-7 series, fought back from a fourth quarter deficit to move into position of sweeping Alaska and capturing their 21st overall championship at the conclusion of the 41st PBA season at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
SMB, which beat Alaska in seven games in the Philippine Cup Finals early this year, seeks to become only the fifth team in PBA history to take a three-games-to-none advantage in the championship and win the crown in four. Before it, 11 other ballclubs have stood on the threshold of a title sweep only to fall in Game 4 (6 teams) or 5 (1) before wrapping it up in Game 6.
Game time is at 7 tonight after the 5 p.m. Leo Awards where SMB center Junemar Fajardo is expected to romp off with his second straight MVP trophy.
Fajardo had 14 points and 19 rebounds in Game 3 as he outshone veteran Alaska center Sonny Thoss under the boards (12 points, 6 rebounds). SMB routed the Aces underneath, 58-36, despite giving up slim margins in points in the paint (54-48) and second chance points (18-16).
Again, however, it was Arizona Reid who tore the Aces to pieces.
With the travesty of Romeo Travis winning the Best Import award looming even larger as Reid continues to put up increasing numbers in the series, the disparity in talent and tenacity between the two reinforcements became even more pronounced two days ago when Alaska was desperately trying to fend off another SMB comeback.
Reid finished with 41 points in Game 3, after scoring 32 in a 108-78 rout in Game 1 and 37 in a 103-95 fightback in Game 2 where SMB rallied from 9 points down in the fourth and closed out with a 13-0 run.
Evidently not done, he had 22 at halftime Wednesday and then added 8 in the third quarter. Sitting out the first few minutes of the last quarter to catch his breath, he returned at the 8-minute mark and dropped another 11 points, including a 3-point shot to ignite a 13-point surge from 78-83 and another 3 to end it, 91-85.
Travis, by comparison, had 14 points in Game 1, 23 in Game 2 and 17 in Game 3, looking tentative and going scoreless in the fourth quarter of the must-win game when the Aces were looking to him for salvation. Sliding over to help Reid with 4 minutes to go, Santos even smothered Travis’ shot from the baseline just before the reedy SMB forward tracked down Casio, following an Alaska steal, and swatted his layup to preserve an 88-85 lead.
Rightfully, Santos was hailed as the Beermen’s defensive force and game-changer, overshadowing a fierce exchange late in the third quarter between Espinas and Calvin Abueva, who were teammates at Alaska before Espinas was traded a few months ago. Both players were whistled for technicals.
The two were at it again early in the fourth, with Espinas scoring against Abueva and then spitting out his mouthpiece and pointedly reminding the Aces firebrand, “‘Bata ka pa!”
A minute later, two former SMB teammates – Tubid and Dondon Hontiveros – got entangled at sideline a few meters from where Commissioner Chito Salud and incoming PBA chief Chito Narvasa sat.
What triggered skirmish was a hard foul given up by Thoss on SMB point guard Chris Ross, who hit the deck hard chest-first and then knocked his knee against the floor. Out of concern perhaps, Hontiveros, who played 10 seasons with the Beermen, tried to check up on Ross but Tubid stepped between them and warded off the now Alaska hotshot, resulting in another minor scuffle and two more Ts from the refs.
The Aces scored six straight points after that to go up, 83-76. But Reid apparently had seen enough from where he sat on the bench fuming and returned to tear down Alaska, scoring 11 of SMB’s next 13 points.
In the end, while Austria spoke of the need to win one more game regardless of the percentages stacked in their favor, Alex Compton, the Aces coach, talked about “being the first man to walk on the moon,” an apparent reference to Alaska’s Herculean task of being the first team to come back from 0-3 and win the championship.
“There has to be a first for everything,” Compton said.
No question. Now all the Aces have to do is find somebody to safely land that lunar module so they can do a Neil Armstrong.