Aces gun for crown vs listless Beermen

Joey Villar, Nelson Beltran - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The fired-up Alaska Milk Aces will come out tonight determined to nail down one huge victory that will give them a special place in PBA annals as only the third team to win the league’s most prestigious crown via a sweet four-game finals sweep.

The Aces try to duplicate the feat of the Purefoods Hotdogs in 2010 and the Talk n Text Tropang Texters in 2013, seeking to close out their Smart Bro PBA Philippine Cup title duel with the crippled and embattled San Miguel Beermen at the Philsports Arena.

Overall, only three other teams have won a PBA championship via the same route – Northern Cement versus Manila Beer in the 1985 Reinforced Conference, Swift Mighty Meaty against Seven-Up in the 1992 Third Conference and San Miguel Beer opposite Alaska in the 2015 Governors Cup.

“I’m hoping we can finish it at the Ultra (Philsports Arena) but we’ve talked about how they (the Beermen) will not hand us anything,” said Alaska coach Alex Compton.

The Aces try to pour everything in Game Four even as they expect the Beermen to fight hard to stall their bid and give June Mar Fajardo a chance to return in the series in Game Five or, possibly, the next two or three games.

“June Mar is definitely out in Game Four but you’ll never know something can still happen and trigger a turnaround in the series,” said San Miguel coach Leo Austria.

“It’s a cliché but we’ll really take it one game at a time,” Austria added. “The hardest part for a coach is how to motivate your team when you’re down. What I told the guys is don’t think about our 0-3 situation, just give your best and try to fight.”

Fajardo is still out of commission with an injured left knee but is showing up at the Philsports Arena as the sure winner of the Best Player of the Conference award to be handed out shortly before the 5 p.m. tip off in Game Four.

“Hopefully, his presence inspires his teammates,” said Austria. “His range of motion is now 100 percent after undergoing a rehab session. He’s been fitted a knee brace but he’s still feeling some pain. He could be okay already in a week or two. I don’t want to sacrifice that. I don’t want to delay his recovery.”

Minus the Big Man, the Muscleman has stepped up to make the Philippine Cup Finals his own show.

Vic “Muscleman” Manuel is again expected to lead their charge as they try to extend their perfect record versus the Beermen dating back to the elimination round.

If ever, the Aces would heal the wound of their losses to the Beermen in the Philippine Cup Finals and the Governors Cup titular series last season.

A victory tonight will also mean the end of Alaska’s chase for a first all-Filipino crown since its 2000 title run under coach Tim Cone. The Aces had earlier Philippine Cup conquests in 1996 and 1998.

But the Beermen are not about to relinquish the crown that they won in a classic Game Seven versus the Aces last season.

“We’re always there in the battle. We’re not just getting lucky at endgame. We just couldn’t close out the game,” said Austria.

“In Game One, we’re terribly beat in rebounding. In the next two games, dikit na ang laban sa rebounds. It’s just about the decision-making at endgame. We’re committing lapses at the finish. Doon siguro namin talaga name-miss si June Mar,” Austria also said.

The Aces battered the Beermen, 100-91, in Game One then barely took the next two games on a stronger finish. Alaska prevailed in Game Two at 83-80 then stretched its series lead to 3-0 on an 82-75 win at the Quezon Convention Center in Lucena Friday.

“We found some guys stepping up in Game Three but at the same time we had guys we expected to deliver but failed to do so. But even then, we could’ve won the game,” said Austria.

An SMB star struggling badly in the series is Arwind Santos.

Averaging 15.5 points in the elims, Santos’ norm has dropped to 7.6 a game in the finale. He was 2-of-19 from the three-point area through the first three games.

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