For starters, a 3-0 series lead in basketball history should always lead to a series win for the leading team.
Tonight was definitely the exception.
For the first time in professional basketball history, the San Miguel Beermen captured the 2015-16 Philippine Cup by pounding the Alaska Aces, 96-89, to take home back-to-back titles, held on a historical Wednesday evening at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
In an unlikely start to the final game of the series, Alaska began the game with three timeouts off the jumpball. However, San Miguel neglected the ‘strategy’ and went on to lead in the opening chapter. Jumpers fell down from SMB’s starting crew, which gave them a quick 18-11 lead.
Despite the Aces also pulling off a platoon substitution midway in the first, San Miguel switched the pace in their favor and took a 22-16 lead after the opening 12 minutes of action.
Alaska had the usual help from their bench players, but San Miguel’s second crew responded. Marcio Lassiter, June Mar Fajardo, and Ronald Tubid combined for 18 first-half points, countering the running attack made by Alaska.
Vic Manuel returned to the action in the second quarter after spraining his left ankle in the prior canto, which helped the Aces spur their comeback. However, two straight three-pointers by Chris Ross lifted the Beermen to a five-point edge during the break.
With no unusual event taking place prior to the start of the new half, the Beermen started to mean business. SMB’s frenetic defense limited the Aces to only four points in six minutes, while they scored fourteen to pull away.
The third quarter proved to be a San Miguel show, pulling off multiple stops at the defensive end. Fajardo led San Miguel’s juggernaut quarter by scoring 11 of the team’s 25. In addition, Arwind Santos banked in a straightaway triple to give the Beermen their largest lead of the game at 68-47. The champs eventually entered the final quarter up by 17.
Alaska pulled off a nerve-racking rally to melt the lead in a blink of an eye. Chris Banchero and Calvin Abueva anchored the defense and transition baskets to suddenly make it a 75-70 game with still 7:30 to go. However, as the defense focused on Fajardo, Chris Ross scored two quick layups to halt the rally.
San Miguel restored control late with resilient stops and composure down the stretch. With less than three minutes to go, Ross punched in a triple to beat the shot clock and cap a 9-0 run that proved the deciding stretch for San Miguel’s championship.
Despite committing 26 turnovers, San Miguel had more rebounds, 62-50. They also shot three more baskets from downtown, while dishing out more assists than the Aces, 20-13.
Chris Ross bagged home the Finals MVP award with a remarkable 21-point outing, four rebounds and three 3-pointers, which all came at a much-needed moment for the Beermen. He averaged 8.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4 assists for the entire series.
“I wanna thank the fans, we couldn’t do it without you. Your message was always the same with us, ‘keep fighting!'” the Finals MVP said. “I couldn’t take this trophy all by myself. Gabby and Marcio had all-star performances, Alex hit big shots and June Mar came back 60% with his knee. We’re all MVPs”.
During the coronation, Coach Leo Austria gratefully pointed out and commended his players, who had refused to lose. He also credited Alaska for an entertaining 7-game series. “Job well done for them (Alaska), but I think we’re luckier than them. Both of us deserved it, but I think miracle is just around the corner and it happened,” Austria added.
Banchero fired 21 points for the Aces, who lost another heartbreaking Game 7 to the Beermen. Abueva added 16 markers.
This is SMB’s 22nd championship for their franchise. Furthermore, the SM Mall of Asia Arena staged the monumental evening with a record-setting 23,616 crowd attendance for games played in the venue.
San Miguel Beer (97) – Ross 21, Fajardo 21, Lassiter 15, Santos 13, Cabagnot 8, De Ocampo 7, Tubid 7, Espinas 2, Lutz 0, Heruela 0.
Alaska (89) – Banchero 21, Abueva 16, Baguio 10, Exciminiano 8, Casio 8, Hontiveros 6, Thoss 4, Baclao 4, Jazul 4, Dela Rosa 3, Manuel 3, Dela Cruz 2, Menk 0, Eman 0.
Quarterscores: 22-16, 43-38, 68-51, 96-89.
Photo by PBA Images
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