San Miguel Beer, Alaska dish out thriller of a series: Epic duel winner of ’em all
San Miguel Beer, Alaska dish out thriller of a series: Epic duel winner of ’em all
Joey Villar, Nelson Beltran (The Philippine Star) - January 23, 2015 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - It was one championship series that when the smoke of battle and smell of cordite vanished into thin air after Game 7, the showdown between San Miguel Beer and Alaska Milk had surely “enshrined” itself among the best in the league

It was a gruelling contest between the explosive Beermen and the amazing Aces that after the final buzzer had sounded Wednesday, there seemed to be no clear winner for league watchers as even the Aces looked like a victor for their never-say-die stand.

Lanky Arwind Santos’ three-pointer with 43 seconds left turned out to be the defining moment of the playoff. For until he made the shot under tremendous pressure, the series was all there for the taking.

That was the recurring storyline in the PBA Philippine Cup Finals.

One team would establish a huge lead only to see the other methodically chip away at it. And time and again, the game would lead to a thriller of a finish.

The championship came down to the final second and to one last shot in the do-or-die Game Seven, and the Beermen – with their star-studded, talent-laden roster and all – barely pulled through on a flubbed three-point try by Jvee Casio.

San Miguel coach Leo Austria and SMB top official Robert Non acknowledged the tough, gutsy stand by the Aces, the series’ underdogs who found a way to push the Beermen to the limit and fought to the very end.

To many, it was Alaska that made it an epic series, with its comeback tales to be remembered as much as the San Miguel escape in the rubber match, 80-78.

 “I was nervous. They gave me a big scare,” admitted Austria of the Alaska Game Seven act that saw the Aces wipe out a 23-point first half deficit and take a 74-68 lead with 4:20 left to play.

“Luckily, our guys didn’t give up. They showed their character. Credit also to my assistant coaches. They really helped me out,” Austria added.

  Santos capped this series of comebacks and fightbacks with a three-point shot in the clutch that proved to be the biggest basket in the championship playoff.

“To have that legs to make that shot, that’s tough,” said Alaska coach Alex Compton of Santos who lived through a hellish 47 minutes of action.

“To make that shot, that’s guts. He deserved a lot of credit. That’s a huge shot in a Game Seven of an all-Filipino series,” Compton added.

Austria made the biggest gamble, fielding Santos and Junemar Fajardo the entire game.

“I just told them ‘guys, this is mind over matter, you have to sacrifice; this is a winner-take-all game.’ And they responded,” Austria pointed out.

 Alaska, on the other hand, spread out the playing time among its aces and shock troopers to stay in the game but succumbed to vital breaks in the endgame.

“It’s a weird mixture of pride in the way our guys fought back and tremendous disappointment in not closing it out. The disappointment is about the result than the effort,” said Compton.

“We were one possession away,” Compton added.

The Aces actually got the last possession but only in the last two seconds after the jump ball between Fajardo and Calvin Abueva.

“I thought that we really fought back. In the second half, we obviously did the whole Alaska-let’s-get-crazy comeback. Ten-of-25 from the free-throw line sure doesn’t help,” Compton rued.

“We’re fortunate. We’re lucky,” said Austria.

With their formidable lineup led by two MVP winners, the Beermen dominated the tournament from the elimination round to their four-game sweep of the Talk n Text Tropang Texters in the semifinals.

But in a stretch-out finals series against the league’s scrappy squad, the Beermen really needed some stroke of luck to emerge as Philippine Cup champs for the first time in 14 long years.

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