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7 p.m. – Alaska vs Rain or Shine
*- Rain or Shine leads
the series, 3-2
Game 1: RoS 105-97
Game 2: RoS 105-103
Game 3: RoS 112-108
Game 4: Alaska 111-99
Game 5: Alaska 86-78
The way the Oppo-PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals is shaping up after five games, all that would be left to drop down on the eventual champion are faded confetti and withered balloons.
Like the ones that rained down on the San Miguel Beermen three months ago at the conclusion of the historic Philippine Cup championship series where SMB beat the Alaska Aces in seven games after trailing, 3-0.
Not that SMB complained about it. And it’s unlikely Rain or Shine or Alaska will make a fuss either if those party paraphernalia stayed hitched to the Smart Araneta Coliseum ceiling for a couple more days – as long they are underneath them when they do finally fall.
But in truth the delay in their release – as Rain or Shine coach Yeng Guiao labelled it – has taken a bigger toll.
Scheduled to leave for London the following day to attend their eldest daughter’s graduation at Cambridge University, Guiao and his wife, Jenny, were forced to re-book their flight after the Aces, fighting for dear life, averted a crushing 4-0 sweep by winning Game 4 last Friday.
And when Alaska made it back-to-back by clinching Game 5 Sunday after the Elasto Painters blew a seven-point edge late in the third quarter, cutting RoS’ lead in the best-of-7 affair to 3-2, the Guiaos decided to scrap the trip altogether.
“Nag-cancel na lang kami; pauwi na rin naman ang mga bata,” Jenny told sportswriters making their way out of the Big Dome. “Di na rin kasi aabot dahil andito na sila sa Linggo e.”
Game 6 is at 7 tonight, with the E-Painters trying for the third time to close out the series against the frightening scenario of losing three in row to a now supremely confident opponent heading to a winner-take-all Game 7 on Wednesday.
In that situation, Alaska will be riding the crest of a roaring momentum, the same giant wave which carried San Miguel over the Aces in Game 7 of the Philippine Cup finals.
This evening’s game will be a decisive battle for both teams, the pivotal clash in the campaign that could ultimately decide the fate of both teams.
Their rediscovered passion for defense, the cornerstone of their team philosophy, has served the Aces well in the last two games as they held the E-Painters below 100 points, including a low 78 in the last four conferences in Game 5.
Without losing respect for RoS, Alaska coach Alex Compton took pride on what the Aces had done so far.
“It doesn’t change my opinion of Rain or Shine being the best offensive team in the league, but it makes me really proud of my guys the way they played defense,” Compton said. “That’s where our identity is.”
That things are looking up for the Aces, after a pall had hung over them in the first three games, is in stark contrast to what’s gripping Rain or Shine, whose turn, it seems, has come to go through some dark clouds.
It is general knowledge now that a furious RoS gunner Jeff Chan had screamed at power forward Beau Belga and pointed an index finger at his temple after Belga deliberately fouled Alaska’s Calvin Abueva with four minutes left in the third quarter of Game 5 and the E-Painters ahead by seven.
Abueva hit two free throws off the Belga foul and RJ Jasul, with Alaska’s retained possession, buried a 3-pointer to ignite an 8-0 run that razed RoS’ lead and precipitated its downfall.
Meek as a lamb so uncharacteristic of the bruising big guy who likes to cock a make-believe shotgun and fire away at the direction of the Commissoner’s row after every three-point conversion, Belga took in without a word everything Chan threw at him.
Belga later apologized for what he called his “stupid mistakes,” while Chan played down the tirade against his erring teammate, explaining he just reminded Belga to play “smart.”
Nonetheless, the episode, which lasted about three minutes and probably escaped Guiao, who didn’t react as intensely as Chan to the deliberate foul, bared what could be a growing turmoil within the team brought about by its inability to close out the series.
Guiao believes nothing is lost though.
“We’re still in a good place,” he said. “We have two chances to win the title; we just have to make the necessary adjustments.”
And to play smart – as Jeff Chan wants them to.