Photo by Czeasar Dancel/Rappler
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) — That "Never Say Die" finally ran out.
Even with "Living Legend" Robert Jaworski watching courtside, the dominance of the defending champions proved too much to handle for Barangay Ginebra as the San Miguel Beermen finished them off in Game 5, 91-85, to win their third consecutive all-Filipino crown in the 2017 PBA Philippine Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Guard Chris Ross was named Finals MVP for the second straight Philippine Cup conference with his finals averages of 17.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 9.2 assists, and 1.8 steals.
The 31-year-old playmaker has had an impressive series, stepping up as an offensive threat after long being regarded as more of a defensive ace and constantly being left unguarded when shooting from the outside.
In Game 5, however, Ross was a beast on both ends once more, particularly in the endgame when he knocked down a wild no-look putback that turned out to be the dagger. Before that he helped keep the rallying Ginebra at bay with his pesky defense and on-point passing.
Look at Ross tap away the ball and steal it for SMB #PBAFinals #PBA2017 pic.twitter.com/XYBgII5DrQ — Rappler Sports (@RapplerSports) March 5, 2017
He wound up with 12 points, 8 rebounds, 10 assists, and 6 steals as he nearly reached a rare quadruple-double. He only had 4 turnovers and was 5-of-11 from the field.
"Since we won a championship last year and he told me, 'Coach, I want to play, I want to win.' I know him, he's a fighter. He has a lot of things to prove. He wants to win," coach Leo Austria said of Ross.
"He's like a journeyman. I think natagpuan niya na ang kanyang bahay at ang kanyang tatay (he already found his home and his father). I think I have to give credit to Chris Ross. He keeps on telling me, 'Coach, we will win.' Once I hear that from him I am confident."
Despite building a comfortable 3-1 series advantage, the Beermen came into Sunday night's, March 5 contest with a strong sense of urgency to close out their sister team, having once been on the bad end of a 0-3 deficit merely a year ago.
San Miguel, considered the league's best team in the last 3 years with the reigning 3-time Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo as its centerpiece, quashed all hopes of another spirited comeback by Ginebra.
The 7th seed Gin Kings, after all, had already survived all 4 of their last do-or-die games in these playoffs since the quarterfinals.
San Miguel, which emerged as the top seed after going 10-1 in the eliminations, now has 23 total championships for its storied franchise.
Austria, the two-time PBA Press Corps Coach of the Year, also stretched his finals record to 4-of-4, winning those 4 titles since he began handling the team in 2014.
Ginebra struggled with gaining control all throughout the series, its lone win coming off a hard-fought overtime Game 2 in Lucena City, which saw most of San Miguel's starters saddled with foul trouble and Marcio Lassiter getting ejected in the third.
The Beermen's talent and depth were too much to overcome for the Gin Kings, who sorely missed the presence of 7-footer Greg Slaughter (knee). They also dealt with injuries to key guys Joe Devance (foot) and Jervy Cruz (shoulder) through the playoffs.
Without enough tools, Ginebra, which last won a title 4 months ago in the 2016 Governors' Cup, built big leads over San Miguel in the series but failed to sustain any of them.
All of San Miguel's starters wound up in double figures with this conference's Best Player Fajardo leading the way on 21 points, 6 rebounds, and a block.
Arwind Santos likewise piled up 21 markers and pulled down 8 boards as Alex Cabagnot scored 18 points and dished out 4 assists. Gunner Marcio Lassiter added 12 points as the Beermen once again asserted their mastery over the Gin Kings from tip-off.
"It's a matter of time and camaraderie," Austria said. "That's why I developed these starters. I'm thankful to the bench because they're very understanding, even if they don't get to play, they keep on working hard in practice."
Japeth Aguilar paced Ginebra with a game-high 26 points on top of 16 rebounds, 10 of which were on the offensive glass.
Skipper Joe Devance had another all-around game consisting of 20 points, 12 rebounds, 8 assists, and a steal while Sol Mercado fought hard to keep Ginebra in the game, scoring 11 of his 20 markers during the payoff period to go with his 9 rebounds and 6 assists.
Veteran guard LA Tenorio, who has been relatively stymied in this series owing in part to Ross' defensive job on him, had 10 points and two assists.
Tenorio's booming triple with 2:28 to go was Ginebra's last gasp of the series as it brought them to within a point, 84-83. But Fajardo sparked a series-ending 7-0 that included Ross' dagger move and a breakaway dunk by Santos to finally snuff out Ginebra for good.
Gate attendance for Game 5 was 20,217.
San Miguel claims its third straight Philippine Cup trophy! #PBAFinals #PBA2017 pic.twitter.com/HdnQ76AsZv — Rappler Sports (@RapplerSports) March 5, 2017
San Miguel (91): Fajardo 21, Santos 21, Cabagnot 18, Ross 12, Lassiter 12, Espinas 4, Tubid 3, De Ocampo 0.
Ginebra (85): Aguilar 26, Devance 20, Mercado 20, Tenorio 10, Marcelo 4, Thompson 3, Caguioa 2, Ferrer 0.
Quarter scores: 27-21, 51-41, 63-61, 91-85.