MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The adage “no lead is safe” has never been truer when playing against the Alaska Aces.
Similar to Game 1 when Alaska overcame a 22-point deficit, the relentless Aces clawed back out of a 21-point grave to take Game 3 from the San Miguel Beermen, 78-70, and notch a 2-1 series in the 2015 PBA Philippine Cup Finals on Sunday, January 11 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“I was completely not a genius, it was all them,” said Alaska coach Alex Compton. “The guys just played hard. I wasn’t calling magical plays, they were just getting stops. They were defensively fantastic.”
Before a raucous 13,785-strong crowd — largely Beermen fans — the Aces turned a 64-46 hole to start the fourth into a 78-64 advantage nearing the last two minutes of the game.
San Miguel’s biggest lead was 61-40 late in the third, as they looked on their way to another lopsided victory with their offense clicking on all cylinders.
But Alaska’s defense held strong once more as they kept the Beermen to just a single field goal (1/15) the entire fourth period. That set a new record for San Miguel as the worst fourth quarter field goal shooting in francise history, according to PBA Head Statistician Fidel Mangonon III.
“At some point in the third I told coach Louie and they’re just really beating us. We had to change things up,” Compton said.
“I told the guys in the huddle kailangan natin ibuhos lahat ng energy natin sa first 6 minutes of the fourth (we need to pour all our energy in the first 6 minutes of the fourth). If we can just cut it down. I need our defensive energy, I need our intensity.”
Alaska did just that, slowly chipping away at the deficit and making all the necessary stops, including taking good care of the ball with 0 turnovers in that quarter and forcing San Miguel to 6 miscues.
They also won the rebounding department in the final 12 minutes, 21-8, as the Beermen settled for the fewest fourth quarter points scored in franchise history at 6.
“Just everyone coming in with a defensive mindset. And it’s a 48-minute game,” said big man Sonny Thoss, who sank key baskets down the stretch including the go-ahead bucket, 70-68, and a calm, shot clock-beating jumper with 48 seconds left to give Alaska a 76-70 cushion.
Thoss came up with 10 points and 4 rebounds for this game while JVee Casio had 11 markers and 5 dimes.
Energy guy Calvin Abueva provided the hustle with 16 points on top of 15 rebounds and 5 assists. His intensity was infectious to his teammates as Alaska was +17 in the 36 minutes Abueva spent on the floor.
It was another horrible endgame meltdown for San Miguel, the more talented team on paper.
The Beermen’s offense took some time to heat up as they were limited to just 8 points in the opening frame, the team’s lowest first quarter output in the last 5 conferences according to Mangonon.
But San Miguel countered right away and ended the first half with a 5-of-7 clip from long range to hold Alaska to 35-27, the Aces’ lowest output in a half in the last two conferences, also per Mangonon.
Alaska, who managed to force their foes to play their pace, edged out San Miguel in fastbreak points, 20-9, and unexpectedly also in points in the paint, 50-22.
Arwind Santos led all Beermen with his 20 points and 11 rebounds but he fell silent when it mattered most with 0 points in the fourth.
June Mar Fajardo had a quiet night with 13 markers and 9 boards.
Alaska (78) – Abueva 16, Casio 11, Thoss 10, Exciminiano 8, Hontiveros 8, Baguio 7, Jazul 7, Manuel 6, Eman 3, Banchero 2, Dela Cruz 0, Menk 0, Dela Rosa 0, Espinas 0.
San Miguel (70) – Santos 20, Fajardo 13, Cabagnot 7, Lassiter 7, Ross 6, Semerad 4, Lutz 3, Fortuna 3, Tubid 3, Kramer 2, Omolon 2, Maierhofer 0, Pascual 0, Chua 0.
Quarterscores: 13-8, 27-35, 46-64, 78-70
PBA 2015 Philippine Cup Finals: