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Aces aim for 3-0 lead

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Game Today
(Quezon Convention
Center, Lucena City)
7 p.m. – San Miguel vs Alaska

Lucena City – It’s now or never for the embattled San Miguel Beermen – and, invariably, for the Alaska Aces as well.

Facing a 0-2 deficit and headed to Game 3 today while yet deprived of its No. 1 player, defending champion San Miguel has to draw deep from its storied past to avert falling behind history when swashbuckling Alaska guns for a 3-0 advantage in the Smart-Bro PBA Philippine Cup Finals at the Quezon Convention Center.

The crucial third game of the best-of-7 championship series is at 7 p.m., with Alaska, having survived an ambush in Games 1 and 2, looking to shove SMB into a dark pit from which no team has climb out from in the 41-year history of the PBA.

A 0-3 hole is where hopes and dreams get trapped and die, and this SMB need not be reminded of.

“I think this story is not yet finished,” SMB coach Leo Austria, waxing positive, told PBA.ph. “There might be another turnaround. We can never know what will happen. As long as there is a chance to win, di kami mawawalan ng pag-asa.”

But Austria is staring at great odds.

Again the Beermen will be without injured center June Mar Fajardo, who continues to nurse his swollen hyper-extended left knee. And for the third straight game they will be at the mercy of Alaska’s Bruise Brothers – Calvin Abueva and Vic Manuel.

Listed as off-the-bench players but are in truth stars in the Aces’ most destructive unit, Manuel had 24 points and Abueva 12 with 13 rebounds when Alaska rallied from a double-digit fourth quarter disadvantage to take the opener, 100-91.

The dynamite duo then reprised their roles in Game 2, with Abueva scoring 9 points with 11 boards, hustling for the night’s most important save at the baseline, and Manuel again taking the cudgels with 18 points, including two game-clinching free throws to complement one game-saving block on Yancy de Ocampo.

His stellar performance in the finals hasn’t escaped notice that Manuel has suddenly found himself deluged with questions on a possible Finals MVP recognition.

“Wala akong mako-comment diyan dahil gusto ko muna mag-champion; yun lang ang importante sa akin,” Manuel told Spin.ph. “Maka-isa man lang (against SMB) kasi tatlong beses na kaming nagtuos (in the finals); na-dalawahan na kami. Dapat maipanalo na namin ngayon.”

Emphasis on now – that is Game 3.

Though ahead in the series, the Aces are in the same boat with the Beermen.

Austria has announced ahead of the Lucena City game that Fajardo won’t be joining the three-hour drive to serve as a highly-paid cheerleader on the SMB bench.

“I hope magkaroon ng miracle, but kung ‘di sya makakalaro, I don’t want him to go with us,” Austria said. “We don’t want to delay his recovery,” he said.

A miracle is something the Aces can’t possibly risk. Letting a Fajardo-less Game 3 slip away, with the strong likelihood of the back-to-back MVP doing a Willis Reed and surfacing in the potential series-tying Game 4, could have dire consequences in their bid for revenge and redemption, especially after the heartbreaking Game 7 of last season’s Philippine Cup championship.

So the time to strike for Alaska is now – when the Beermen are at their most vulnerable and the scent of blood is yet farthest from their senses.

If Alaska goes up 3-0, then the weight of all those failed missions to come alive and win four in a row will grind San Miguel to the ground. But if the Beermen find a way somehow to step back from the brink and make it 2-1, then all hell could break loose in Game 4 at the Philsports Arena on Sunday.

With Fajardo rested and back in harness, playing limited quality minutes, and De Ocampo revved up from all those sudden extra minutes and offensive load, the pair could pass up for a blue-collar Twin Tower alignment that could snare offensive rebounds and make three-point shooting a joyous event again for Marcio Lassiter, Ronald Tubid, Alex Cabagnot and Arwind Santos.

If that happens, then it could be down to a best-of-3, with the series tied, 2-all – an unmitigated disaster the Aces cannot allow to pass.

As said before, it’s now or never for everyone on that floor tonight.