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Aces try to bury SMB

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Game Today
(Smart Araneta Coliseum)
7 p.m. – Alaska vs San Miguel (Game 5)

History remains on the better side of the Alaska Aces going to Game 5 today although maybe not for long if they let this one slip away as well.

With their dreams of a coveted sweep thrashed by Marcio Lassiter, Arwind Santos, Gabby Espinas, Chris Ross and Alex Cabagnot in Game 4 last Sunday, the Aces get the second of three more chances to capture the Smart Bro-PBA Philippine Cup title today at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, with SMB looking to keep the multi-colored balloons tethered on the catwalk and June Mar Fajardo on the bench both a little while longer.

Action begins at 7 p.m., with Game 6 of the best-of-7 series, if it comes to that, set on Friday.

Hundreds of neon-colored balloons were three and a half minutes away from getting released to shower down on the Aces after they opened an 11-point lead on a Jvee Casio triple against the embattled defending champions in the fourth quarter. But the celebration never came.

In a span of six minutes, SMB, behind Lassiter and Santos, outgunned the Alaska offense, with Santos, who delivered the dagger 3-point shot against the Aces in Game 7 of last season’s Philippine Cup Finals, tipping in his own miss to give the Beermen a 94-93 lead with 28 seconds left.

Unbelievably, Alaska wasn’t to score a field goal from the 3:30 mark until just before the game buzzer when Cyrus Baguio buried an off-the-screen trey to tie the score, 98-all, and send the fourth game of the series into overtime.

There Ross and Cabagnot took over and led the way to a 110-104 victory that cut Alaska’s commanding lead to 3-1 and added fuel to speculations that SMB, regardless of coach Leo Austria’s pronouncements of not “disrupting the healing process,” will suit up Fajardo and bring him in for limited minutes tonight.

Despite the loss, Alaska continues to enjoy a comfortable advantage since not half a dozen teams have engineered a comeback from a 1-3 deficit in the PBA’s 41-year history.

But a crack, a small fissure, might have developed in the Aces’ armor as a result of the Game 4 loss, a realization that the longer it takes for them to finish off the Beermen, the greater degree of confidence is built into the defending champions who now know Alaska can be beaten even without the 6-foot-10 Fajardo.

That awareness, in truth, hasn’t been lost on SMB for even though the Beermen went down 0-3 in the finals, all three losses were the result of blown fourth quarter leads and their inability to keep Vic Manuel at bay.

But it was only after they pulled off a magical rally of their own in regulation three days ago and persevered even more in the extra period that the possibility was crystallized in their minds. Now the Beermen have become even more formidable than before.

And if Fajardo, the Best Player of the Conference for three years running, suddenly comes out of the locker room in uniform, with his ankles taped and his shoestrings taut, then an even longer evening than Game 4 awaits the Aces.

“I hope this win shifts momentum to us,” said Austria. “Nakuha namin yung breaks na hinihintay namin noon pa; sana magtuloy-tuloy na ‘to. But we have to be even more prepared for Game 5.”

Alex Compton, the Aces coach pursuing his first PBA title, lamented their “poor execution” and excessive eagerness to put away the Beermen.

“It’s not laziness. I think it’s more of sobrang gigil; they were really fired up,” Compton said when asked what it was that seemed to have afflicted his team.

Austria wants momentum; Compton desires more restraint. Whichever, Game 5 stands to be the pivotal point of the series, the game that could ultimately decide where either team will end up in the final reckoning of history.