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MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – It was never a sprint for the San Mig Super Coffee Mixers. It was always a marathon.
As James Yap scored on one-hander after one-hander on Wednesday, July 9, the Smart Araneta Coliseum rumbled and rattled anew just like the countless times it stood witness to historic championships like the Mixers were about to have.
With Mark Barroca running around finding his teammates like he has done all year and Joe Devance stepping up as needed, San Mig Coffee finally crossed the finish line of their season-long marathon and trumped the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, 92-89, in a classic Game 5 in the Finals of the 2014 PLDT Home Telpad PBA Governors’ Cup to finally stamp their claim in history with a Grand Slam.
The Mixers took home their fourth straight silverware and the third one for the rare and coveted Triple Crown. It is also the second Grand Slam feat for the now 18-time champion coach Tim Cone, who last accomplished the same in 1996 with Alaska.
“This 4-peat, this Grand Slam still hasn’t hit me yet. I’m overwhelmed by it,” said Cone after the awarding ceremonies, drenched in water and looking a mix of relieved, ecstatic and exhausted from a grueling season.
“Every time that we came to a big game, I’d say, well, this is the time it ain’t gonna happen. We played with fire too much, it ain’t gonna happen. But somehow the guys just found a way.”
Yap, whom Cone himself said he was saving for big games and big moments like a winner-take-all Game 5, could do no wrong on Wednesday night on his way to 29 markers and 8 rebounds, keeping the Mixers afloat all game long.
Rain or Shine, despite their best efforts at chopping down the once 16-point 69-53 lead in the third to one, 73-72, early in the fourth, bowed down to yet another payoff period assault from Cone’s wards.
The Mixers came out with a mission to crowd the paint and gang rebound, saving many possessions and getting the edge on second-chance points, 16-10. Though Rain or Shine, after having zero second-chance points in the first half, came back in the second half thanks to multiple putbacks off misses.
Despite being down for most of the fourth, the Painters rallied to within 3, 92-89, with 1:32 to play after an Arizona Reid basket.
But for the potential party crashers, no matter how many chances they were given, those 89 points were their last ones for the 39th season of the PBA.
Towards the end both teams failed to knock down crucial shots that could’ve finished either of them off.
As San Mig Coffee missed 4 straight endgame free throws from Barroca and Yap, the Painters, too, missed 5 triple attempts from Reid, Paul Lee and Jeff Chan that could have tied the game and force overtime.
Down to the last possession, however, like coach Yeng Guiao had always taught, the Painters fought.
Lee had a nice open look on the left corner with 26 seconds on the clock but the 25-year old gunner, who had been 4-of-7 from long range before that attempt, watched in horror as the ball rattled in and out of the rim.
He and Chan would make two more attempts in the wild sequence that ensued, which had the misfiring Chan (6 points with zero makes from beyond the arc) heave a shot that was rebounded by Lee for his own long one that was too strong.
And with 2.2 seconds left in the season, Reid took the last shot, a triple, that could have prevented the Grand Slam. But it wasn’t meant to be.
As Lee finished with 21 points for the Painters and Reid had 23, chaos broke out around the Big Dome and the Mixers basked in the moment they’ve all been working toward all year.
“Just watching the journey we had and being able to watch these guys and observe, it’s truly just an honor,” Cone said.
The 56-year old Cone made sure to air his awe over his hard-working players.
He spoke of the relentless energy and tenacity of Pingris (10 points, 11 rebounds) and Devance (11 points, 8 rebounds), as well as the calmness of Yap, who he says was relaxed in one corner before this game while his other teammates were pumped up and intense.
“That’s why he’s Big Game James, nothing fazes him,” Cone said of the 32-year old former UE Red Warrior.
Fittingly, Yap won his second consecutive Finals MVP award after bucking injuries throughout the season.
“He just comes out and plays calmly and is able to withstand the big moments.”
Toughest Grand Slam
This particular Grand Slam is the toughest, according to Cone, even if just for the rough schedule this season.
The PBA shortened its usual year-long season to give the national team ample time for preparations as they gear up for the FIBA World Cup in Spain this August.
As a result, this 39th season was played in 235 days, with barely any breaks. The 38th season was played in the span of over a year in 391 days.
“It’s gotta be one of the hardest that was won of the other Grand Slams,” Cone said, explaining that it was a real challenge to keep his team interested and motivated what with routine and exhaustion creeping in.
Compared to his Grand Slam team of 1996, this team, according to Cone, is a true workhourse.
“This batch I think was much more frenetic. It’s just the constant playing without any true breaks.”
Sitting on the dais before the press, Cone looked incredulous at various moments.
The celebrations were in full swing, especially inside the Mixers’ locker room, but he was visibly still in shock of his achievement.
“It didn’t really seem possible, honestly. Even to me and the fact that 18 years ago was such a special moment,” he said.
“I was telling the guys you can only do that once in your life and now two of us, Johnny A and myself have been able to do it twice in our lives.
“I was telling our players, ‘This is gonna be the greatest times of your life, right now, right here. This will be the ones you’ll always remember in your career.'”
SAN MIG SUPER COFFEE (92) – Yap 29, Blakely 20, Devance 11, Pingris 10, Simon 10, Barroca 6, Maliksi 4, Sangalang 2, Mallari 0, Reavis 0, Melton 0.
RAIN OR SHINE (89) – Reid 23, Lee 21, Almazan 11, Norwood 11, Belga 7, Chan 6, Arana 4, Uyloan 2, Cruz 2, Tiu 2, Ibanes 0, Rodriguez 0.
Quarter scores: 23-16, 43-38, 73-70, 92-89.
PBA 2014 GOVERNORS’ CUP FINALS RECAP