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7 p.m. – Rain or Shine
vs Alaska (Game 3)
**-Rain or Shine leads best-of-7 series 2-0
Game 1: RoS 105-97
Game 2: 105-103
In adversity, could the Alaska Aces finally find redemption?
Down, 0-2, to the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters in the Oppo-PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals, the Aces are in perfect position to display courage and resilience against a ferocious opponent that will be gunning for a commanding lead in the best-of-7 series at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Game 3 is at 7 tonight with the E-Painters looking to put the Aces in a hole where they’ve been before and never climbed out from. A 0-3 deficit, ironically, will also send Alaska to a virtual Lazarus pit where it once shoved in another team only to bear witness to its historic PBA resurrection.
Alaska went down 0-2 and then 0-3 to San Miguel in the 2015 Govenors’ Cup finals, leaving the Aces spent from the valiant effort at resistance and ultimately helpless to fend off the marauding Beermen in Game 4 as SMB swept the series.
With vengeance seared into their minds, the Aces returned in the 2015-16 Philippine Cup with fire in their eyes, advancing to the championship against the Beermen – their third dance in two seasons – and roaring to a 3-0 advantage with SMB’s best player, June Mar Fajardo, on the bench hobbled from a hyper-extended knee he suffered in the semis battle with Rain or Shine.
No PBA team has ever risen after getting buried that deep in a best-of-7 series, and the multi-colored balloons were ready to be released from the Philsports Arena ceiling as the Beermen went to Game 4 with Fajardo still in street clothes and Alaska opened an 11-point spread with less than four minutes remaining.
But destiny was not on Alaska side. San Miguel rallied to force overtime and steal Game 4, and Fajardo returned for Games 5, 6 and 7 as the Beermen made history by being the first PBA ballclub to come back from 0-3 and win the title.
Now the Aces are standing on familiar, if shaky, ground.
At 0-2, 84 percent odds stare them in the eye with only 7 out of 44 teams coming back all the way after falling behind after two games in a best-of-7 series. And unless they wish to tempt fate and go down 0-3 with a shot at retracing the path of SMB in the Philippine Cup finals, the best time to mount a comeback is today.
But the Aces face formidable task. Not only have the E-Painters showed that they can win with Rob Dozier scoring 41 points in Game 1, Yeng Guiao’s charges also demonstrated they can withstand Alaska with six players in double figures as in Game 2.
As long as they have Lee directing play at crunch time.
So how best perhaps to deal with a team that has bruising backup forward Jewel Ponferada shooting 3-point shots, guards Jericho Cruz and Maverick Ahanmisi toying with Alaska’s once feared full-court pressure defense, and scorers Jeff Chan and JR Quiñahan just waiting to explode?
Get Dozier to score 40 points again for one. Suit up recuperating forward Vic Manuel for another. And, by any means at their disposal, find out what ails the suddenly-tame Calvin Abueva.
Then take the ball out of Paul Lee’s hands in the fourth quarter, especially in the closing minutes when the former University of the East star can conjure up miracle shots from any spot on the floor.
“We have a two-game cushion but it’s not safe against Alaska,” Guiao said Sunday. “They know they’re a good team, they know they can come back… we also know that.”
Alex Compton, the Aces coach, continued to stay positive in the face of dimming possibilities for a title that has eluded Alaska since the 2013 Governors’ Cup.
“Our general team character is one of great resolve,” he said. “Now we gotta go out and earn it, play smart and with precision.”