(Philsports Arena, Pasig)
5 p.m. – Alaska vs San Miguel (Game 4)
Are the Alaska Aces ready to slay the ghost of last season’s conference finals? At the risk of forever being haunted, they better be.
It’s right there for the taking. All the Aces have to do is show up for Game 4 today, hang in there for about 40 raucous minutes as San Miguel Beer gropes for ways to extend the series, and then get the ball to Vic Manuel and watch him knock the crown off the head of the embattled defending champion.
That has been the compelling story of the first three games of the Smart Bro-PBA Philippine Cup Finals: the two protagonists locked in fierce battle, SMB momentarily gaining the upper hand but then succumbing to Alaska’s unyielding resolve to redeem itself from a Game 7 heartbreaker last year.
With a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-7 title showdown, an advantage no ballclub has ever managed to squander completely, Alaska seems impervious to almost anything San Miguel can conjure up at 5 p.m. at the Philsports Arena in Pasig, and the sight of the victorious Aces standing over the crumpled ruins of their vanquished tormentors is a vision that has taken form even before the series began.
Of course, all this depends on one game-changing phenomenon: a 6-foot-10 figure materializing from the shadows, his huge hands wrapped around the Best Player of the Conference trophy, and declaring history is about to be rewritten starting in Game 4.
June Mar Fajardo suiting up this afternoon and actually playing could impact in a, well, big way how the series will turn out.
His presence remains in doubt, though, and whether SMB management or Fajardo’s doctors will allow him to risk aggravating a knee injury, either in the course of the game or by an accidental hit, is still in the realm of speculation.
At any rate, the Alaska Aces can’t lose sleep over Fajardo showing up. They have beaten the Beermen in the elimination when the back-to-back MVP winner was healthy, and the insurmountable odds are squarely behind them now, with four games in their possession to put away SMB – with or without Fajardo.
Alaska rallied from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter to take Game One, 100-91, stole Game Two, 83-80, when SMB got careless and failed to put it away, and then snatched Game Three, 82-75, as the Beermen ran out of ammunition in the exchange of gunfire in the closing minutes.
The pattern points to business getting wrapped up before the day is through.
Whether SMB has anything left in the tank to avert a shutout is in doubt, especially with the way Alaska, specifically Manuel, Calvin Abueva and RJ Jazul, had assumed control every time the game went up for grabs.
Yet anything can happen.
Fajardo doing a Willis Reed, even at three-quarters strength, will be an event of mythical proportion and could shift some of the momentum to SMB – unless the Aces, unmindful of whoever walks into center-court for the opening jump, come out firing and cut down everything that stands in their way.
The SMB gunners are all but a spent force, and backup big men Yancy de Ocampo and Jay-R Reyes have given all they have as reserves in an effort to hold the fort until Fajardo returns. Reyes, in fact, faces suspension for that flagrant 2 foul on Manuel early in the fourth quarter.
Alaska is a team on a mission. And with their nemesis wobbly and on the ropes, the Aces are going in for the kill regardless if June Mar Fajardo has anything to say about it or not.
At this stage and with his condition, it could be best if the Big Fella gets out of the way.