MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The San Miguel Beermen held the Alaska Aces to the worst first quarter imaginable and looked to be on their way to an easy win in game one of the 2015 PBA Philippine Cup finals.
But like they have all conference long, the Aces leaned on terrific defense, kept fighting for 50-50 loose balls, and managed to make enough baskets to complete a comeback. And by the time the game reached an extra 5-minute session, the Beermen had ran out of gas.
When the final buzzer sounded, Alaska’s hands were raised in victory, 88-82, on Wednesday, January 7, at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
“Wow,” was what Aces head coach Alex Compton could muster in the post-game presser. “I thought we had as bad a start as we could have in the first quarter. A lot of the credit should go to San Miguel, but we really came out flat.”
Alaska had just 5 points in the game’s first 12 minutes – a franchise low for points scored in a quarter and the least points scored in a quarter in PBA Finals history.
“I felt our transition defense was poor in the first half, particularly in the first quarter. A lot of that came from the good defense of San Miguel that was making us miss shots,” Compton said.
But the second half was a different story.
The Aces relied on defensive pressure off of their full-court press to force numerous turnovers and get easy scoring opportunities on the break to close the gap of the game early in the third quarter.
A pull-up 3-pointer by Hontiveros on the break cut SMB’s lead to four, 50-46, getting the Alaska side of the Big Dome up from their seats.
Early in the fourth quarter, another long-range shot by the Cebuano Hotshot, followed by scores from RJ Jazul and Cyrus Baguio, gave the Aces a 65-62 lead.
Both teams exchanged baskets in the last few minutes, with Chris Lutz making a couple of consecutive layups to give his team a 72-69 edge with under 3 minutes to go. Following a tying trey by JVee Casio, Lutz earned a trip to the free throw line but split his charities.
With under a minute left, Hontiveros hit a 15-foot shot to put his squad back on top, 74-73. The Beermen were unable to counter, and were forced to foul on the next possession. Unfortunately for Alaska, Casio lost his balance when he received the ball off the inbound pass, leading to a jump ball.
Lutz won the tip against Casio as the ball landed in the hands of Fajardo, who was uncharacteristically fouled by Calvin Abueva. The reigning PBA MVP then split his charities, paving the way for overtime.
After rookie Chris Banchero, who had his best game as a pro with 16 huge points, and Lutz exchanged baskets, Casio and Hontiveros hit succeeding 3-balls midway through OT that iced the game for the Aces.
“Calvin was great. Banchero was great. I’m happy for him. Jvee made big shots,” Compton said.
He also laughed about Casio slipping – which also happened in a dire playoff moment against the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters in the 2014 PBA Governors’ Cup: “Moisture seems to follow him around. I don’t know what’s happening there.”
Abueva finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds for the Aces, while also going 12-of-13 from the foul stripe. Hontiveros finished with 15 points, while Casio had 13.
Lutz led SMB with 24 points, 4 assists, and 4 rebounds. Fajardo put up 14 points and 17 boards, but had only 9 shots which was a product of Alaska’s smothering interior defense.
Alex Cabagnot and Arwind Santos combined for 20 points on 7-of-23 shooting.
Alaska shot just 34% from the field but forced 26 San Miguel turnovers. The Aces’ bench also dominated the Beermen’s, 61-20.
SMB, who led by as much as 22 and for 43:47 minutes of the game, shot 37% from the field and went 12-of-18 from the foul line.
Game two is on Friday, January 9.
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