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PBA: Aces live another day

Baguio and QUinahan

Game Wednesday (Smart Araneta)
7 p.m. – Alaska vs Rain or Shine (Game 6)

Is this the beginning of the end for the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, a predator slowly losing its grip on a prey that suddenly has gone wild?

For two straight games now it looks that way as the Alaska Aces, getting stronger with each step on the road to survival, won Game 5 of the Oppo-PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals last night, 86-78, to cut a once-commanding 3-0 Rain or Shine advantage to 3-2 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Game 6 of the best-of-7 series is on Wednesday, with the Aces one win away from a hitherto unimaginable place that could spell deliverance and redemption from their tortured past.

“We’ve talked about it, the need to be strong physically and mentally,” said Alaska coach Alex Compton. “The guys just locked in and made it their commitment.”

For 48 minutes, the Aces committed themselves to putting behind the forgettable events of Games 1, 2 and 3 and to focusing on the task at hand.

“No adjustments after Game 3, we just did what we had to do, what we trained to do,” said Compton, who was in the shoes of Rain or Shine coach Yeng Guiao not too long ago when San Miguel Beer was making a run at a 3-0 Alaska lead in the Philippine Cup championship.

The Beermen went all the way in that series. Now the Aces are learning to find their own way along the long, dark road back.

Calvin Abueva led Alaska with 20 points, running berserk in the fourth quarter with 10 as the Aces refused to back down when RoS briefly regained the edge after losing momentum in the third.

Rob Dozier added 8 of his 14 during the period and veteran gunner Dondon Hontiveros 6 of his 12, kicking off the last 12 minutes with a triple that gave the Aces a 59-57 lead which they never relinquished.

Jeff Chan had 17 points and Paul Lee 16, but no other E-Painter came up big against the defense-oriented Aces who held the team to its lowest output since its 78-71 victory over Star in the Commissioner’s Cup four conferences ago.

Beau Belga, notably, came up short in the areas where he normally excels in: defense and intimidation, and the kick-out 3-point shot.

Not only did Belga went 2 of 7 from the field in 18 minutes, he also gave up a grievous deliberate foul on Abueva with RoS holding a 53-46 advantage with 5:10 minutes left in the third quarter that set off a chain of events that proved to be the turning point for Alaska.

Abueva, perfect from the line in Game 5, hit the two free throws and RJ Jasul buried a 3-pointer in the Aces’ possession to spark an 8-0 run that wiped out in 60 seconds the E-Painters’ hard-earned lead and provided Alaska the crucial momentum shift.

So furious was Chan at the sudden reversal of fortune that he verbally lashed out at Belga on the bench until the end of the period. Though he made no response to the tirade, Belga returned to the game two minutes into the fourth quarter and picked up his sixth foul in penalty two minutes later.

The loss, team sources said, forced Guiao and his wife to permanently cancel their flight to London where they were to attend their eldest daughter’s graduation. A sweep of the series Friday would have allowed Guiao to leave, but the Aces wouldn’t go quietly into the night.

Instead of rescheduling their departure for a second time, Guiao has now opted to skip the trip altogether.

ALASKA 86 – Abueva 20, Dozier 14, Jazul 13, Hontiveros 12, Baguio 11, Banchero 6, Racal 5, Baclao 2, Thoss 2, Dela Rosa 1.

RAIN OR SHINE 78 – Chan 17, Lee 16, Quinahan 9, Cruz 8, Ponferada 8, Henderson Niles 6, Norwood 5, Belga 4, Almazan 2, Ibanes 2, Ahanmisi 1, Tiu 0.

Quarters: 15-19; 37-40; 56-57; 86-78