Alas not giving up
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - April 25, 2019 - 12:00am

It’s not easy digging out of a 1-3 hole in a best-of-7 series but despite the odds, Phoenix coach Louie Alas isn’t giving up the fight against San Miguel Beer in their semifinal duel to book a ticket to the PBA Philippine Cup’s Last Dance. Game 5 is scheduled at the Cuneta Astrodome tonight and another San Miguel win will wrap up the tie.  Alas, however, said he’s not ready to take an early vacation.

In PBA history, only four teams have battled back from a 1-3 series deficit to win a Game 7. That’s four of 53 or a 7.5 percent chance of survival. Twice, it happened in the semis – TNT over Petron in the 2011-12 Philippine Cup and Purefoods over Alaska in the 2006 Philippine Cup. Twice, it happened in the finals – San Miguel over Alaska in the 2015-16 Philippine Cup (coming from 0-3) and Ginebra over Shell in the 1991 first conference.

Shortly after Phoenix lost a 114-91 decision to the Beermen in Game 4 at Cuneta last Tuesday, Alas emerged from the Pulse Fuel Masters’ dugout looking even more determined to extend the series. “I told the guys I’m not ready to go on vacation,” he said. “The fight’s not over. It takes four wins to finish a series. San Miguel has three and we’ve got one. We’re not giving up.”

Alas said he knows how difficult it is to beat San Miguel.  “Give credit to them, they’re a championship team,” he said. “They do what it takes to win. They played mind games against us (in Game 4) and we have to do a better job of staying focused and composed. Jason (Perkins) is a composed player but in Game 4, he did some pushing himself. Sobra na ang ginagawa nila and they’re getting away with it. We’re supposed to be the physical team but they’re playing mind games.”

Alas said he couldn’t believe Alex Cabagnot escaped sanction after what looked to him like a blow to R. J. Jazul’s groin in close quarters last Tuesday. “It happened in front of me,” said Alas. “I thought Cabagnot hit R. J. with a closed fist. Our guys reacted when he wasn’t even called for a foul and he even took the technical foul shot.” Alex Mallari shoved Cabagnot to the ground after the incident and was thrown out. Another Phoenix player Jaypee Mendoza was later ejected on a flagrant 1 and a technical.

PBA commissioner Willie Marcial said he’ll review the film of the Cabagnot incident and decide if sanctions are necessary or not. Since the referees did not signal a flagrant, the incident was not reviewable. The technicals that were called stemming from the incident were, however, reviewable. The referees should’ve signaled for a flagrant since Jazul went down then they could’ve later decided to uphold or downgrade on review of the film. But without a call for a flagrant, the incident wasn’t reviewable. Whether Jazul flopped or not was beside the point. Whether Cabagnot punched Jazul or not was the point.

Alas said San Miguel made key adjustments in Game 4 following Phoenix’ 92-90 win in Game 3.  One was Matt Ganuelas-Rosser going aggressive on the offensive end as Phoenix doubled off him to shackle June Mar Fajardo. Another was Fajardo’s activity in ball-screens, becoming less predictable than in Game 3 when he just sat at the post waiting to be doubled. With Fajardo more mobile, it was difficult for Phoenix to throw the double. It was the same adjustment with Christian Standhardinger. Still another adjustment was limiting Fajardo and Standhardinger from playing together and bringing Arwind Santos back to the four spot. In six previous playoff outings, Santos hadn’t scored in double figures at the three spot. But in Game 4, Santos erupted for 16 points on nine attempts from two-point range and seven attempts from beyond the arc. The shot selection was a stark improvement from Game 3 where Santos took all his 12 field goal attempts from three-point distance and sank only one.

Rosser’s contribution was huge. Before Game 4, he’d averaged less than a point, scored no more than four points, never started and was scoreless in five of 10 outings. In Game 4, Rosser delivered eight points, six rebounds, seven assists and five steals in 31:47 minutes starting in Marcio Lassiter’s place. On defense, he held Matthew Wright to six points, the first game this conference where he didn’t score in twin digits. With Wright dropping out, three players are left in the elite cast of double figure scoring in every game – Magnolia’s Ian Sangalang and NorthPort’s Sean Anthony and Mo Tautuaa.

Game 4 saw Phoenix giving up more than 100 points for the first time this conference. Clearly, the only way Phoenix can beat San Miguel is by playing tough defense, not by trying to outscore the Beermen. If the Fuel Masters are able to hold San Miguel to 90 or less, the probability is they’ll win. If not, the probability is the reverse.

“They made their adjustments, now we’ll make ours,” said Alas. “All I’m asking from the referees is consistency.” In Game 4, Phoenix was whistled for 41 fouls and San Miguel took 42 free throws, converting 27. The Beermen were called for 29 fouls and Phoenix took 29 foul shots, hitting 20. The Fuel Masters had the edge in rebounds, 68-55 but blew a lot of possessions with 22 errors leading to 19 turnover points by San Miguel. 

In 11 wins this conference, Phoenix gave up an average of 88.5 points. In five losses, including three in the semifinals, the Fuel Masters surrendered an average of 100.8 points. That’s a clear indication of what Phoenix has to do to survive Game 5 tonight. Another loss will send San Miguel flying to the finals. The Beermen are looking to capture their fifth straight Philippine Cup crown.

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