Will it end tonight?
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - May 12, 2019 - 12:00am

There’s a 58 percent chance that the PBA Philippine Cup Finals will go to a Game 7 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum on Wednesday. PBA chief statistician Fidel Mangonon quoted the odds after San Miguel Beer tied the best-of-7 series, 2-all, with a 114-98 win in Game 4. In PBA Finals history, 22 of 38 series went to a Game 7 after a 2-all deadlock.

That means San Miguel is likely to beat Magnolia in Game 6 at the Big Dome tonight. But Hotshots coach Chito Victolero is looking to defy the odds. He wants to close it out in Game 6 because if San Miguel extends it to a Game 7, the probability is the Beermen will wind up with the trophy. San Miguel will carry momentum into a Game 7 and with its extensive championship experience, coach Leo Austria will enjoy a huge advantage in a winner-take-all showdown.

Although San Miguel is expected to bounce back tonight, Magnolia isn’t discounting a wrap. The Hotshots displayed grit in carving out an 88-86 decision in Game 5 last Friday. If it had gone into overtime, Magnolia would’ve been clearly under the gun with Rafi Reavis and Kyle Pascual fouled out and Victolero’s two other bigs Rodney Brondial and Ian Sangalang a call away from disqualification.

The trend in the Finals is clear. Magnolia wins if it’s low-scoring and defense-oriented while San Miguel prevails if it’s high-scoring and offense-oriented. In three Finals wins so far, Magnolia has limited San Miguel to an average of 87.3 points. In San Miguel’s two wins, the Beermen averaged 111 points. In Game 5, Magnolia held San Miguel to 18 points in the first and second quarters as the Beermen finished the half with only 36. That set the tone for the contest where Magnolia led 83 percent of the way. But it wasn’t a cakewalk.

Starting the second half, San Miguel ignited an 11-0 surge and wrested the lead, 56-51, riding on a 20-2 blast. Then, Justin Melton came to the rescue. He hit from deep to tie it, 58-all, and dished to Rome de la Rosa for a three-point play and Mark Barroca for a triple as the Hotshots capped a 14-2 run to go up, 69-60. Although Terrence Romeo knotted the count, 86-all, with 1:18 left, San Miguel never led the entire fourth period.

Barroca was the man of the hour for Magnolia. With time down to 14.6 seconds, the Hotshots went for the finisher. Victolero called for the horns play where two bigs Sangalang and Brondial set up high on both corners of the upper box. Jio Jalalon, shadowed by Matt Ganuelas-Rosser, used Sangalang’s pick to lose his defender and passed to Brondial. Christian Standhardinger, guarding Brondial, went to Jalalon to help and left Brondial open, forcing Chris Ross, defending Barroca in the corner, to cover. With Ross leaving Barroca free, Standhardinger raced to recover as Brondial passed to the Hotshots guard. Barroca faked off Standhardinger and stepped in for an unmolested two-point jumper. It was a perfect execution.

More than Barroca’s deciding shot, it was Magnolia’s overall defense that took down San Miguel. For the first time in the Finals, San Miguel was held to less than 30 percent shooting from the field, managing only 29.8 percent. Inside the last five minutes, San Miguel was whistled for a pair of 24-second shot clock violations. June Mar Fajardo had only four points in the first half, 4-of-10 from the line. He ended up with 21 points but bled from the floor, hitting only 6-of-17 field goals – in stark contrast to Game 4 where the Kraken shot 13-of-14 and scored a total of 31. The Hotshots also limited San Miguel to 13 assists, its lowest in the series, and had more points in the paint, 38-34 despite Fajardo and Standhardinger taking turns in the middle. 

Reavis, 41, delivered eight points and 10 rebounds in Game 5. It’s incredible that when Reavis was picked second overall in the 2002 draft, the first choice was Yancy de Ocampo who’s in the San Miguel lineup. De Ocampo, however, hasn’t played in the Finals and saw action only twice this conference. In the same draft, Victolero was selected in the second round, 13th overall, and NorthPort assistant coach Rensy Bajar and Blackwater head coach Aris Dimaunahan were picked in the third. Reavis is on record with the most Finals appearances, 17. If Magnolia wins the title, Reavis will become the first player to suit up for at least 12 championship teams since Hotshots assistant coach Johnny Abarrientos in 2006-07.

Tonight, San Miguel will be rearmed to make adjustments. Magnolia will be handicapped as Paul Lee won’t be 100 percent after hurting his left shoulder in a collision with Marcio Lassiter in the fourth period last Friday. Lee returned to the starting lineup in Game 5 after coming off the bench in Games 3 and 4. Austria will need more consistency from his backcourt to take Game 6. Alex Cabagnot, Romeo and Ross were a combined 6-of-30 from the field in Game 5.

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