A Game 7 like no other is about to rock the Philippine Basketball Association down to its core, with San Miguel Beer looking to consign 34 years of tradition to the archives, compose a fresh final chapter in the history of the best-of-7 series, and establish a new championship order that will stand the test of time.
Make no mistake about it, however, the Alaska Aces can still ruin all that – at least, the way SMB coach Leo Austria sees it.
“It’s winner-take-all so all the stats from the first game now go to the waste [basket],” said Austria after the defending champion Beermen routed the Aces in Game 6 last night, 100-89, to level the Smart Bro-PBA Philippine Cup Finals at 3-3 and arrange a Game 7 of unprecedented nature on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
A crowd of 12,626 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum – the biggest in the series so far – watched as SMB completed a resurrection from a 0-3 deficit to come knocking at heaven’s door.
“Kailangan lang namin makakatok ng maayos para pagbuksan kami ng pinto,” said SMB forward Arwind Santos, who joined Austria and 6-foot-center June Mar Fajardo in the post-game interview, turning emotional in addressing several questions.
“MaS komportable na ang paghinga namin ngayon,” he said. “Noon kasi ang kaisipan naming e tama na yung maka-isang panalo. Ngayon iba na kaya kailangan ng ilabas lahat ng nakatago sa baol.”
Marcio Lassiter, who drained four three-pointers, poured 17 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter, while Fajardo had 8 of his 16 when the Beermen broke away and opened a 15-point advantage, turning a riveting first three quarters into a blowout.
“We got beat fair and square,” said Alaska coach Alex Compton, who lamented the free throw discrepancy in Game 5. “June Mar was a big factor and Marcio was awesome.”
The Aces were within 67-66 going to the last 12 minutes. But Lassiter torched Alaska from beyond the arc over the next six minutes and Fajardo asserted his might inside as the Beermen raced to an 83-68 lead.
San Miguel, actually, has already accomplished something that has never been done before since no PBA team has rallied from 0-3 to tie the series. Now the Beermen are on the verge of something even more mind-boggling.
In the 75th edition of the best-of-7 series since its introduction in 1982, all 16 ballclubs that went up 3-0 had gone on to complete the job, 13 taking place in the finals.
It will be the 34th Game 7 in league history and the 25th with a championship at stake. SMB has beaten Alaska in Game 7 of last season’s Philippine Cup Finals although the Aces still cling to a 2-1 edge in head-to-head with SMB.
San Miguel is 5 of 10 in Game 7 success, while Alaska is 4 of 8. On Wednesday, the two teams will either be closer in ratio or more farther apart.
Attacked relentlessly by the Aces as he stood in the middle of the zone, the Beermen, who took the half, 51-49, were forced to pull out Fajardo for Yancy de Ocampo five minutes into the second quarter after Alaska opened a 35-22 lead on an RJ Jasul drive.
Back to a smaller but faster lineup, and with the target of the Aces’ defensive system off the radar, SMB went on a 16-2 run, with De Ocampo and Alex Cabagnot sparking the surge with three-point plays each. Jazul snapped the Beermen’s six-point spurt with 8:43 remaining but it wasn’t until after three minutes later that Alaska bought a basket.
By then the Beermen were on the way to wresting the upper hand, 41-39, on another De Ocampo 3-point play.
SAN MIGUEL 100 – Lassiter 26, Fajardo 16, De Ocampo 14, Cabagnot 10, Santos 10, Ross 8, Tubid 7, Espinas 4, Heruela 2, Lutz 2, Arana 1.
ALASKA 89 – Manuel 21, Abueva 17, Jazul 13, Casio 11, Thoss 8, Baclao 6, Banchero 6, Menk 3, Baguio 2, Exciminiano 2, Dela Cruz 0, Hontiveros 0.
Quarters: 22-29; 51-49; 67-66; 100-89