Who would have thought that a lean, six-foot-three point guard would morph from a one-dimensional defensive specialist to one of the best all-around hustlers in the league?
Before, Chris Ross was the opposing team’s least defensive focus. He was often left alone from beyond the arc, allowed to try for shots. There were even times where teams would often send him to the line, as he was not a decent foul shooter.
But those are now things of the past. For the past two seasons, the third pick of the 2009 Draft has grown from being a defensive weapon, to a more dynamic point guard who can not only facilitate and run schemes, but can also hit much-needed baskets in crunch time.
And on Sunday night, his all-around brilliance — and his end-game smarts, of course — was in full display in front of 20,217 people, in Game 5 of their best-of-seven title bout in the 2017 PBA Philippine Cup against the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel.
Heading into Game 5, the Beermen were leading the series 3-1, so their desire to end the series was inevitable. The SMB side made their intentions clear, and it was Ross who rose to the occasion and truly embodied their will to reign victorious.
Ross stepped up to the plate come the game’s payoff period. It could be said he was in full control of the frame alone, as he forced Ginebra to commit turnovers with his four steals. But aside from his effort on defense, his end-game prowess was also highlighted.
Alex Cabagnot pulled up for a jumper, but the shot clanged off the rim. However, Ross came out of nowhere, grabbed the miss, and put it back in with a tough reverse. As the shot met the bottom of the net, SMB went up six, 89-83, with 47 seconds to go.
Ross made another big play ten ticks later. As Joe Devance’s triple from the wing missed, Ross was there to grab the defensive rebound. He then dished it out to Cabagnot, who passed it to Santos for a dunk — enough to keep the Barangay at bay.
And from there, it was game over. The final buzzer sounded, and SMB secured a three-peat with a 91-85 victory. And in the process, they have also secured the Perpetual Trophy, becoming only the second team next to TNT to claim the coveted hardware.
If it hadn’t been for Ross, SMB’s victory would not have been that sure. The 31-year-old filled up the stat sheet and finished with 12 points, 10 assists, six rebounds, and six steals. As a result, he was judged the Finals Most Valuable Player — his second award, having won the first back in the 2016 Philippine Cup.
In yet another Finals series, Ross has made his presence felt. And for the Texas native, it all stems from the energy that the playoff atmosphere gives him.
“I was just being aggressive, man,” said Ross. “I just love the Playoffs. I love the Finals. I love the lights, and I like playing in front of crowds like that. It means something.
“Not saying that the elims don’t mean anything, but, you make your name on the Playoffs and in the Finals,” he declared.
When one of the journalists reminded him of his statline, Ross, in all honesty, had no idea that he had produced those kinds of numbers.
“I don’t even know my stat. I really [don’t know],” Ross admitted. “We just wanted to end tonight. Whatever it took, we just wanted to end it ’cause we know what type of team they have, what type of coach they have. We don’t wanna give them any momentum.
“All those stats? They don’t mean a thing to me. The main thing for me is winning. That’s why I’d rather have my teammates score,” added Ross, who averaged 17.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 9.2 assists, and 1.8 steals in the Finals’ five games.
The spotlight is obviously focused on him, but for the Fil-American, the credit should not only go to him, but also to his fellow stars — MVPs June Mar Fajardo and Arwind Santos, and the lethal backcourt duo of Marcio Lassiter and Alex Cabagnot.
“Total team effort man. It all starts from JMF. We all benefit from his greatness. All the attention he gets? It all just trickles down, man. Arwind spaces the floor for us. Marcio spaces the floor for us. Alex makes plays,” Ross pointed. “We were playing beautiful basketball.
“I was hoping they’d give out five MVPs.
“Our starters did so much, we played so many minutes, and I was just hoping we all five could get a trophy,” Ross even quipped, just to show his appreciation to his teammates.
It is now safe to say that Ross has become part of SMB’s history with the way he has been delivering for the franchise. And as his tenure rolls on, all that Ross hopes for is to stay longer with San Miguel — his home.
“It’s a great franchise to be a part of. We have so many championships. The bosses are amazing, the owner’s amazing. The coaches keep on figuring out ways on motivating us despite of all of our successes. The core group of guys that we have now had really grown together,” he shared.
“We’ve become brothers.
“There was a time that we were so talented but we couldn’t win. And we got over that hump. It’s really a blessing from God. All the hard work we’ve put in and it just feels amazing.”