The comeback kids have done it again.
Down by 12 in the early moments of the final quarter, the frenetic Alaska Aces squad turned on the switch behind an almost-perfect fourth quarter to open up the 2015-2016 PBA Philippine Cup Finals against the defending champions, the San Miguel Beermen, 100-91 held on a thrilling Sunday night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Playing without their MVP June Mar Fajardo, San Miguel took advantage of Alaska’s slow start, tallying an early 9-2 cushion in the opening five minutes. However, Alaska’s bench players led by Calvin Abueva, were able to tie the game at 17 after a 13-4 run built in the middle of the period. Alex Cabagnot scored nine points, including a buzzer-beating triple in transition to halt Alaska’s rally, and tie the game at 23 after the first.
Alaska’s defense stepped up in a sloppy second quarter for both teams. In addition, the Aces led by as much as three for majority of the period. However, 12 first half turnovers by the Aces slowed their scoring down, while the Beermen kept knocking on the door, courtesy of a good shooting clip by their guards. By the 2:25 mark, SMB took back the lead at 38-35 with an and-one play off a fastbreak by Cabagnot. The Beermen eventually took a 42-38 edge at the break, despite being outrebounded by the Aces.
Marcio Lassiter and Arwind Santos anchored SMB’s third quarter offense, while they clamped down defensively on Alaska’s bigs. The Beermen led by 57-50 with 6:10 left in the quarter, but the Aces relied on back-to-back threes by Cyrus Baguio in the middle of the period. The offensive-filled quarter yielded 33 points by SMB, including a 9-2 closeout to the quarter, which gave the Beermen a nine-point cushion heading to the last frame.
The Beermen extended their cushion to a dozen-point spread in the early part of the fourth. Unfortunately, they succumbed to multiple turnovers in the ensuing possessions, in which the Aces used to their advantage. Furthermore, Arwind Santos fouled out for San Miguel in the middle of the furious Alaska run. Vic Manuel poured in 14 of his 24 points in the final frame for Alaska, who closed the game on an unmatched 9-0 run, including JVee Casio’s lone triple which served to be the dagger.
Alaska had more rebounds at the end of the match, 48-28, 20 of which came from the offensive end. They also had more points in the paint, 58-34, while maintaining a 51% clip of shooting from the floor.
Manuel’s 24 paced the Aces off the bench. After the match, he still gave credit for SMB’s tough play sans June Mar Fajardo, but was contented with the way they bounced back from their slow start.
“Yung start amin medyo masama. Pinaalalalsamin ni coach na i-limit turnovers kaya pinakita lang namin sa 2nd half yung sinasabi niya samin,” the Muscle Man shared. “Kahit wala si June Mar ang lakas pa rin ng San Miguel dapat yung sipag at focus namin andun pa rin.”
Manuel had help from his co-bench players as three other second unit guys finished in double figures. Cyrus Baguio had 16, Banchero had 15, and Abueva chipped in 12. The Alaska bench contributed a whopping total of 71 points, more than 70% of the team’s output.
Cabagnot finished the night for San Miguel with 20 points and four assists, including a 7/11 shooting. The playing centers Yancy De Ocampo and Gabby Espinas combined for 29 points and 15 rebounds. Arwind Santos tallied a dud statline in 33 minutes, with only four points, five rebounds and shot a poor 2/11 clip.
Game Two of the series will be played on Tuesday, 7pm still at the Big Dome. San Miguel’s June Mar Fajardo still questionable as of press time.
Alaska (100) – Manuel 24, Baguio 16, Banchero 15, Abueva 12, Jazul 6, Exciminiano 6, Hontiveros 5, Casio 5, Menk 5, Thoss 4, Baclao 2.
San Miguel Beer (91) – Cabagnot 20, Lassiter 19, De Ocampo 18, Tubid 13, Espinas 11, Santos 4, Arana 4, Ross 2, Lutz 0, Semerad 0/
Quarterscores: 23-23, 38-42, 66-75, 100-91.