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SMB eyes PBA finals

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Game Today
(Smart Araneta)
7 p.m. – Rain or Shine vs San Miguel (Game 6)

The writing is on the wall, but neither coach is taking to heart the big, bold letters.

As San Miguel Beer’s Leo Austria refuses to write off Rain or Shine going to Game 6 tonight and Elasto Painters mentor Yeng Guiao rejects the idea of waving the white flag, the Smart Bro-PBA Philippine Cup semifinals barrel on towards a potentially explosive climax at 7 p.m. at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

It could end for shorthanded RoS before the day is over or signal a resurgence, with the E-Painters living to fight a do-or-die Game 7 on Sunday.

The Alaska Aces, who disposed of Globalport in the other semis bracket, await the winner of this best-of-7 series which the defending champion Beermen lead, 3-2, after winning Games 4 and 5 in masterful fashion. If SMB prevails today, Game 1 of the championship series could be on Sunday, with the Finals opener moved to Tuesday should RoS force a seventh game.

For Guiao, who watched SMB center June Mar Fajardo score 27 points and the Beermen gunners bury nine three-point shots in a 103-94 victory that shattered a 2-2 deadlock Wednesday, their survival will depend on one key factor which RoS had been sorely lacking in the past two games.

“We need to play better defense,” Guiao said after Game 5. “SMB has been scoring in the 50s. Percentage-wise, that’s just too much. Our offense is not bad; we can win with our offense. But we cannot win without our defense.”

SMB shot 51 percent two days ago, including 31 of 50 (62 percent) inside the three-point arc. RoS absorbed a 52 points to 40 hammering inside the shaded area and 16-2 in fast breaks.

“They beat us in our own game,” Guiao acknowledged.
Austra reinforced the sentiment.

“Our off-the-bench players, [Gabby] Espinas and [Chris] Ross, are playing well; they’re playing great defense,” said the SMB coach.

Ross, specifically, has been exceptional.

He came in halfway in the first quarter of Game 5 and quickly turned a 10-4 deficit into a 17-13 lead with his leadership, aggressiveness and ability to baffle RoS star point guard Paul Lee. Ross had nine points and three assists while Lee had seven and two, with both playing less than 24 minutes each.

Fajardo is a given, Guiao believes. But he bemoans their failure to shut down SMB’s shooters. Three triples to end the first half and three more to kick off the fourth were more than what the E-Painters could handle.

“We just have to live with our three bigs [Beau Belga, JR Quiñahan and Jewel Ponferada]; wala lang talagang physical matchup kay Fajardo; it’s a defensive problem for us,” Guiao said. “We can sacrifice scoring a little bit more but we cannot sacrifice two or three more of their guys scoring.”

RoS lost 6-foot-7 center Raymond Almazan to an ankle sprain suffered in practice prior to Game 3. Slasher Jericho Cruz then hyper-extended his knee in that game and sat out the next game but was back for Game 5.

All the stats, notwithstanding, Austria ignores what appears to be obvious to all as the SMB franchise guns for its 36th final appearance.

“We haven’t achieved anything in this series with this win; we need one more,” he said. “And we need to continue playing deliberate and methodical.”

He then added something that could be more bad news headed RoS’ way. “We still have a lot of room for improvement,” Austria said.

Despite the odds stacked against them, Guiao remains defiant as ever as only he can.

“We’re still very positive; we still feel we can take this series. All we need is to gain our momentum,” he said.

“We have to keep the game close and play defense. We also have to make a commitment to sacrifice themselves in playing good defense without committing the fouls.”

And then what?

“It will be a toss coin if it goes to a Game 7,” Guiao said.