No St. Valentine’s Day massacre

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin Henson - The Philippine Star

In crime history, the murder of seven men lined up against a wall by assailants using machine guns in a Chicago garage is known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and it happened on Feb. 14, 1929 during the Prohibition era. The incident has been reenacted in numerous movies, spawning a legacy often translated in popular culture as a one-sided contest in sports.

Last Wednesday was Valentine’s Day but there was no massacre in the title-clinching Game Six of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. It went down to the wire as San Miguel Beer pulled a rabbit out of coach Jorge Gallent’s sleeve to storm back from a 13-point deficit to beat Magnolia, 104-102. The Beermen’s biggest lead was four late in the fourth quarter and San Miguel was in the driver’s seat only for 3:05 minutes. The Chicken Timplados Hotshots were ahead for 43:09 minutes but couldn’t force a winner-take-all Game Seven which would’ve been set tonight.

Magnolia outscored San Miguel in every quarter until the fourth – 26-22 in the first, 25-24 in the second and 31-27 in the third. Then, things turned sour in the last 12 minutes as San Miguel gave Magnolia a dose of its own defensive medicine. The Beermen took the fourth, 31-20, to end the series. CJ Perez unloaded 12 points in the third and 12 in the fourth to finish with 28 as San Miguel broke the Hotshots’ back in a late uprising. Perez hit 60 percent from two and 60 percent from three in a fiery showing after early foul trouble limited his playing time in the first half where he scored only four. Jericho Cruz shot nine of his 12 in the payoff period and Chris Ross, six of his nine, also in the surge.

It wasn’t San Miguel’s offense that turned the tide. The Beermen tightened the screws on Magnolia in the second half. In the third quarter, the Hotshots had six turnovers and San Miguel, none and in the third, Magnolia committed seven and the Beermen, four. The change of possessions fueled San Miguel’s attack and the Beermen wound up scoring more turnover points, 29-21. Magnolia’s feisty backcourtmen Jio Jalalon and Mark Barroca were scoreless in the fourth period after combining for 23 previously. Tyler Bey produced only a point in the last quarter to underscore Magnolia’s sputtering offense.

Gallent pushed all the right buttons down the stretch. When Magnolia tried to stop the clock and put San Miguel at the stripe in the waning seconds, the Beermen spaced the floor and killed precious seconds before the Hotshots could foul. Five Beermen scored in double figures including Martilyo Boys Cruz and Don Trollano. JuneMar Fajardo fired 11 in the second quarter and finished with 19, tying his Finals high. Bennie Boatwright compiled 19 points, 13 rebounds and a conference-high eight assists. Bey scored 18 so the imports cancelled each other out, leaving the locals to decide the outcome.

Magnolia won Games Three and Four with defense, holding San Miguel to an average of 82.5 points. But in the Beermen’s four wins, they hit at a 106 clip. The Hotshots’ hopes hinged on making every encounter a low-scoring, drag-out affair. The Beermen wouldn’t oblige. Still, it was no St. Valentine’s Day Massacre last Wednesday as the battle was close until the final buzzer. The win spoiled Paul Lee’s 35th birthday and he celebrated with 25 points. For San Miguel, the victory was the team’s fifth Commissioner’s Cup crown and 29th overall, first under Gallent. For Magnolia, its title drought has now extended to 10 straight conferences.

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