History in the making

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

Whether Alaska or San Miguel Beer wins the deciding Game 7 of the PBA Philippine Cup Finals at the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena on Wednesday, history will be made. No series in league history has been settled in a Game 7 after a team went up 3-0. For San Miguel, it will be quite a feat to capture the crown coming from 0-3 down. For Alaska, it will also be an unprecedented achievement to win the title after blowing a 3-0 advantage.

PBA chief statistician Fidel Mangonon said history was made when San Miguel beat Alaska, 100-89, in Game 6 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum last Friday as it was the first time that a series was tied at 3-3 after a 3-0 lead. In the 1997 Commissioner’s Cup, Gordon’s Gin zoomed to a 3-0 edge then Alaska bounced back to win two in a row before the Ginebra franchise clinched it in Game 6. That was the closest any team got to forcing a Game 7 from a 0-3 deficit.

In the NBA, no team has ever stormed back from 0-3 to win a series. Three teams, however, rebounded from 0-3 to force a Game 7 but wound up losing in the end. There were three teams in US major sports that recovered from 0-3 to win a tie although none was in basketball. They were the Boston Red Sox over the New York Yankees in the 2004 American League baseball championship series, the New York Islanders over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1975 NHL (National Hockey League) quarterfinals and the Toronto Maple Leafs over the Detroit Red Wings in the 1942 NHL Finals.

This is the 75th best-of-7 Finals in PBA history since 1975 and the third in the last four that went to a Game 7. Of the 75 title series, this is only the 25th Finals to go to a Game 7. Of the 25 Finals that went the distance, San Miguel won five and Alaska, four.

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Alaska coach Alex Compton is shooting for his first-ever PBA title in his fifth conference with the Aces. He took over from Luigi Trillo two games into the 2014 Governors Cup and has led Alaska to three Finals appearances so far. San Miguel coach Leo Austria is gunning for the third feather in his cap after claiming the first and third conference crowns last season. He won his first-ever PBA title at Compton’s expense in the previous Philippine Cup and took his second crown, also at Compton’s expense, in the Governors Cup.

Compton was an assistant with Welcoat for three conferences when Austria was head coach for three conferences in 2007-08. He also played for Austria in a two-import format in the 2007 Fiesta Conference. So they go back a long way.

A crowd of over 12,600 witnessed Game 6 and the fans got their money’s worth for sure. The series has turned into one of the most exciting Finals ever with San Miguel crawling out of a 0-3 hole to win back-to-back games in overtime before stunning the Aces convincingly in Game 6. JuneMar Fajardo’s absence in the first three games was a telling factor as Alaska got off a 3-0 start.

San Miguel’s turnaround came in Game 4 when the Beermen eked out a 110-104 verdict in extension with Fajardo sitting in civvies. Austria broke the cold spell with a strong finishing kick as San Miguel outscored the Aces, 29-21 in the fourth period and 12-6 in overtime. In Game 5, Fajardo checked in for 16:28 minutes off the bench and much like an injured Willis Reed inspiring the New York Knicks with a brief presence on the court to beat Los Angeles for the NBA title in 1970, lifted San Miguel to an 86-73 victory, once more in extension.

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In Game 6, San Miguel held Alaska to less than 90 points for the second straight contest and unleashed Fajardo and Marcio Lassiter in the payoff period to win decisively. The Beermen outscored the Aces, 33-23, in the fourth period to seal it. Fajardo and Lassiter combined for 25 points in the quarter. From the start of the Finals, the pattern has been clear. The team that outscored the other in the fourth period and won the battle of the boards wound up on top in the end. Alaska did it in the first three games and San Miguel did it in the last three. So the trend isn’t dictated by starting strong but by finishing stronger.

San Miguel’s defense has taken the starch out of Alaska’s offense in the last two outings. Suddenly, Alaska’s vaunted motion offense has sputtered. In the eliminations, Alaska was such a dominating offensive machine that eight Aces scored in doubles figures in a 123-104 romp over Globalport. But in Game 5 of the Finals, San Miguel had four players in twin digit points and Alaska, three. In Game 6, five Beermen scored in double figures compared to four Aces.

From Game 1 to Game 5, Alaska’s field goal percentage has consistently gone down, dropping from 52 to 45 to 40 to 35 to 32. In Game 6, the Aces shot 40 percent to reverse the curve but it wasn’t enough to pull off a win. The last two games showed that for San Miguel to win on a consistent basis, the Beermen must play tough defense to hold Alaska to less than 90 points. Conversely, if the Aces are to win Game 7, they’ve got to play their usual style, relying on the “We Not Me” concept of equal opportunity offense to make it a high-scoring shootout.

In Tuesday’s column, we’ll examine how Alaska’s leading scorer Vic Manuel may actually be the reason why the Aces are slumping and the options on the table for both teams to win Game 7.


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