The San Miguel Beermen are champions once again.
The league’s most storied franchise took home their 20th conference title tonight, after surviving another massive comeback from the Alaska Aces, who climbed from a 23-point hole in the second quarter, and eventually exiting four heated quarters of basketball with an 80-78 Game 7 victory, Wednesday night at the Araneta Coliseum.
The first quarter was welcomed by a trade of salvos that led to a 7-7 deadlock at the halfway point of the quarter. Back-to-back treys care of Arwind Santos gave the Beermen the means to pull away by as many as eight, 15-7, in the next few minutes. Powered by their seamless outside shooting, San Miguel remained ahead of the chase at the end of the first quarter, 21-12. The Beermen drained five of their 10 three-point attempts in the quarter, Santos having found success from beyond the arc thrice in the period.
Still the better shooting team, the Beermen extended their lead by up to 16 early in the second quarter. For the upteenth time in the series, tempers flared between the two sides around the six-minute mark, when San Miguel’s June Mar Fajardo pushed Alaska big man Sam Eman from the back. Eman in turn shoved Fajardo’s teammate Ronald Tubid, and coming to his teammate’s defense Fajardo went to Eman to give him a piece of his mind accompanied with a shove up front. The near-scuffle was immediately defused by personnel from both sides. Eman and Fajardo were each slapped with technical fouls for second motion. Still scoring as they pleased, the Beermen doubled the Aces’ output with just four minutes on the clock, 42-21, care of Santos’ fourth trey of the game. Following a dominant display on both ends by the frontcourt duo of Santos and Fajardo, the Beermen entered halftime with a 48-27 lead. Fajardo had 15 points and 12 rebounds to his name for the first half. Despite the 21-point deficit, the Aces shot 42.9% from the field, not far off from the Beermen’s 46.3%.
A flurry of big baskets care of Calvin Abueva to trim the lead to 13, 50-37, early in the third period gave Alaska their much-needed morale boost. Amidst flaring tempers anew, the Aces managed to come within 11 points later in the quarter. A three-point play by Abueva after powering his way to the rim put the Aces within single digits for the first time since the opening period, 48-56. The Aces’ renewed push brought them to as close as three, 57-60, in the final minute of the quarter. Two free throws from San Miguel’s Fajardo, who was previously scoreless in the quarter, extended the lead to five, 62-57, but a late basket by Dondon Hontiveros cut the lead to three shortly before the buzzer, 62-59.
Another basket by Hontiveros to open the fourth period put the Aces within striking distance, 63-64. The Aces finally found themselves with the deadlock at the six-minute mark, thanks to Chris Exciminiano. A fastbreak layup this time care of Cyrus Baguio gave Alaska their first taste of the lead since the first quarter, 70-68. Taking advantage of an exhausted Santos and Fajardo, the Aces managed to pull away by six, 74-68, in the following minutes of play. The Beermen however were able to keep up the pace, and entering the final two minutes, the Aces’ lead was at two, 76-74.
A big offensive rebound by Exciminiano paved the way for Sonny Thoss to extend the lead to four, 78-74, but two Chris Lutz free throws on the other end kept the Beermen within two, 78-76, with a minute and a half left on the clock. After forcing the Aces to throw the ball with just under a minute left in regulation, the Beermen found Santos lurking at the three-point line. The former MVP went on to sink the trey and give the Beermen back the lead, 79-78, with just 42 ticks remaining. After forcing Thoss to miss the layup in the following possession, the Beermen managed to retake possession of the ball with 24.8 left on the clock, thanks to a rebound by Santos. Santos later split two free throws at the 19-second mark to extend the lead to three, 81-78.
A missed Abueva floater with nine seconds left in the quarter ended up with Tubid. Tubid, unaware that San Miguel had no more timeouts left, was slapped with a technical foul for asking for a timeout after corralling the ball. Hontiveros however was unable to sink the technical free throw, and with 6.4 left on the clock and the ball returning to San Miguel, the score remained unchanged.
With 2.8 seconds left, Abueva managed to force a jump ball after causing Fajardo to fall down just by the baseline. Abueva won the ball and immediately flung it to JVee Casio who was waiting at the three-point line. His shot missed however, and it was the Beermen who exploded into the court celebrating.
Santos led the Beermen with 22 points and 11 rebounds. This is the first All-Filipino Conference championship won by the San Miguel franchise since 2001, when they defeated sister team Barangay Ginebra.