The win did not come easy for the Aces, which led by as much 15 points early in the third quarter as they (ironically) outran the Kings. The crowd favorites, however, flashed their never-say-die attitude on the floor, and even took the lead, 90-89 with over five minutes left in regulation.
“We thought we are about to pull away, and then Ginebra just didn’t quit. They took the lead, didn’t give up, and played with that kind of heart. It’s just nice to have a bunch of guys making great plays,” head coach, Alex Compton said.
“The guys fought and didn’t quit. It looked like Ginebra was on a monster run, but we just got back and made the plays, got some stops. That’s huge. I love coaching these guys.”
The turning point for the Aces came when both teams went small in the final five minutes of action. Mac Baracael, who hit a bunch of outside bombs early in the opening frame, was subbed in for Japeth Aguilar after the athletic big twisted his right foot. He played the four, and was joined by Josh Urbiztondo, LA Tenorio, Mark Caguioa, and Mike Dunigan as Ginebra tried to beat Alaska using spacing.
With the sudden change, Compton immediately pulled out forward Nonoy Baclao, and sent Dondon Hontiveros inside. Calvin Abueva moved to the four spot to match up with Baracael. In addition, the other Aces on the floor were Cyrus Baguio, JVee Casio, and Damion James.
With a quicker lineup on the floor, Compton had defenders who moved fast enough and could switch assignments, while also having a chance to recover.
Ginebra would shoot two-for-eight from three-point distance after that point, and finished with 8-for-29 overall, with the Aces doing an excellent job closing out on the Kings’ outside threats.
“Throughout the course of the game our perimeter defenders did a lot of good things,” Compton added. “Obviously you have to play matchup. If they have Baracael at the four and three quick wing guys who can use ball screens, that’s not how you want to play James and Calvin in the wings. Then, they changed it, and put Greg [Slaughter] in, so I had to bring back Sonny [Thoss] in.”
Slaughter was re-inserted with over two minutes left. Thoss also checked in and played good defense against the 7-footer. Ginebra only had two rebounds in that final stretch (Alaska outrebounded Ginebra 48-38 overall).
The game was already sealed as Alaska held a four-point margin but Compton, wary of changes in the team’s quarterfinal opponent should they score, called a timeout with six seconds to go, and mapped out a play which eventually led to a James basket.
“We had to call a timeout because twice-to-beat is such a disadvantage. Ginebra played good defense, but James read the play, made the simple face cut and made the basket,” he said.
With a six-point win, Alaska avoided Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, and will instead face the Purefoods Star Hotshots in a best-of-three affair. Compton is truly has one of the brightest basketball minds, and they were able to pull off a win with him fielding the right unit on the court at the right time.