Aces under pressure as SMB’s big man triggers big turnaround

Joey Villar, Nelson Beltran - The Philippine Star

Game today (Smart Araneta Coliseum)

7 p.m. – San Miguel vs Alaska

Game One: Alaska 100, San Miguel 91

Game Two: Alaska 83, San Miguel 80

Game Three: Alaska 82, San Miguel 75

Game Four: San Miguel 110, Alaska 104

Game Five: San Miguel 86, Alaska 73



MANILA, Philippines – The return of the league’s top man has virtually changed the complexion of the title playoff where the Alaska Aces now face tremendous pressure to close out the series while the San Miguel Beermen enjoy a shift in fortune and momentum.

With reigning back-to-back MVP awardee June Mar Fajardo back in harness, the Beermen played with renewed vigor to beat the Aces, 86-73, in another overtime thriller in Game 5 of the Smart Bro PBA Philippine Cup best-of-seven title playoff at the Smart Araneta Coliseum Wednesday.

Though still leading the series at 3-2, the Aces are hard-pressed to wrap it all up tonight. If they lose again, they head to Game Seven the clear underdog against an SMB squad that has the momentum in search of a record feat.

Game time is 7 p.m., also at the Big Dome.

With back-to-back overtime victories, the Beermen are now halfway through what could be a record title run from 0-3 down in a championship series. It’s something that has never been achieved in the PBA or even in the NBA.

With Fajardo back, the Beermen are bracing for a shot at history.

“He’s the PBA MVP. He’s the league’s best player. He gives us hope,” said San Miguel guard Chris Ross.

“We’re alive and really hopeful. The team’s confidence is back,” said SMB forward Arwind Santos.

“June Mar’s presence is really big. Knowing your go-to-guy is in there on the floor with you, your confidence will really shoot up,” Santos added.

Fajardo begged coach Leo Austria to field him during the showdown.

“All the players dream to be on the big stage. All of us want to be in the finals,” said Fajardo. “I feel okay. I think I can help for as long as coach Leo manages my minutes.”

Fajardo played a little over 16 minutes but it  was enough to inspire and energize the Beermen in an 86-73 win in Game Six Wednesday.

The crowd was electrified the moment Fajardo stood up and headed to the officials’ table towards the end of the first quarter.

“June Mar (Fajardo) inspired the crowd, his teammates and just about everybody. We didn’t want to play him but he insisted to be back. He wanted to be back whether we win or lose,” said San Miguel coach Leo Austria.

Will the Aces be able to contain the Beermen’s newfound energy and intensity?

Alaska coach Alex Compton believes he won’t have a problem motivating his team.

“We lost twice in overtime. The realistic truth is it was a close game,” said Compton. “Since I came over, we’re 5-5 in the all-Filipino versus San Miguel with June Mar. It’s pretty even.”

Compton maintains his concern is the big discrepancy in fouls and in free throws.

He noted the big jump on that department after Game Three. “I think that has an impact in the game, don’t you?” he said.

“We missed some shots, but I’ll go back to if a team consistently gets 30 more free throws than you do and gets 20 more fouls called, it’s going to be difficult,” he added.

In Game Four, San Miguel was awarded 46 free throws as against Alaska’s 30. In Game Five, it’s 35 to the Beermen and only five to the Aces.

Are they getting a raw deal from the refs?

“No, I’m just pointing out facts. I don’t have to say anything like that,” he said. “I’ll let you be the judge. I have no other statements to make other than that.”

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