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Aces remain unfazed

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Game on Wednesday
(Mall of Asia Arena)
7 p.m. – San Miguel vs Alaska (Game 7)

It could be too late for mind games, but Alaska coach Alex Compton must have reckoned the Aces, at this point, have little else to lose.

The series is all but lost anyway.

Hanging on to a shred of defiance in the face of overwhelming odds, Compton said, after San Miguel did something Friday that no PBA team has ever carried out in a best-of-7 affair – win three straight games after dropping the first three, that Game 7 of the Smart Bro-PBA Philippine Cup Finals has shifted the burden to close out the series on the defending champion Beermen.

“Now, I think the pressure is on them,” Compton said at the post-game interview after watching SMB defy 34 failed attempts and level at 3-3 by winning Game Six, 100-89. “I don’t know how you guys see it, but the team you were all writing about that was expected to win a grand slam, now has to step up in Game Seven.”

He added without acknowledging the weight of expectations on their shoulders after going up 3-0: “I actually think that we’re gonna have some fun next Wednesday, but that’s just me.”

Arwind Santos disagrees though.

A few minutes earlier Santos had addressed the same subject of tension versus tranquility in Game 7, and believed SMB cannot be any looser heading to the winner-take-all match.

“Mas masaya kami ngayon kasi noon, kumbaga, tama lang ang paghinga namin; ngayon mas maluwag at komportable na,” said Santos, who, along with June Mar Fajardo, joined coach Leo Austria in the press room. “Kaya sa Game 7, ilalabas namin lahat ng nakatago pa namin sa baol.”

It was Fajardo who made it all possible as he cleared up SMB’s clogged airspace with the Beermen gasping for life.

With the front-court cornerstone drawing so much attention from everyone, including the hounds sent out to track down Santos, Marcio Lassiter and Alex Cabagnot beyond the arc in Games 1, 2 and 3, the SMB gunners have begun breathing more freely starting in Game 4, scattering Alaska ‘s stifling defense all over the playing court in search of spot-up snipers.

“He’s opening it up for us shooters,” Lassiter, who unloaded 17 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter of Game 6, told Spin.ph. “They have to collapse on him and it’s been helping us. I got some good looks.”

Lassiter translated those open looks into four three-pointers, two coming in the first six minutes of the fourth where the Aces, unable to effectively do battle on two separate fronts, got caught in the middle of no-man’s land and were held down to two Chris Banchero free throws as SMB opened an 83-68 advantage.

Fajardo, who debuted in Game 4 of the finals after hurting his left knee in the semis against Rain or Shine, had 16 points, 8 in the fourth quarter. He also had 7 rebounds, taking away two or three potential second chance opportunities for the Aces at the start of the final period.

At 70 percent max that evening, as approximated by Austria, Fajardo vowed to do even more on Wednesday.

“Last game na ‘to kaya bigay todo na lahat,” Fajardo said, baring even more his commitment when he interjected after Austria was asked whether a financial windfall was forthcoming.

“Di yung bonus ang maalala ng mga tao,” Fajardo drawled in all seriousness, “kundi yung championship.”

Austria, who himself had some psychological thing going early in the series when he kept everybody guessing as to Fajardo’s actual status, even going to the extent of challenging his players to “bring us to Game 7 and June Mar will play”, says their goal of making history as the first ever to win a championship after going down 0-3 is what fuels their burning ambition.

“More than anything, yon ang pinaka-importante sa’min,” said Austria. “Yung history.”

No more mind games there, just the plain, simple, compelling truth.

Up to the Aces to come up with something nobler.

  • Abe68elguerra