The San Miguel Beermen have the series lead for the first time in the Philippine Cup finals, after escaping a feisty showing from the Alaska Aces to take a crucial 93-88 Game 5 victory Friday night at the Araneta Coliseum.
Continuing a veritable trend in the series, it was San Miguel who once again dominated in the early first quarter, leading 13-5 halfway through the period. A late Alaska surge however culminated in an RJ Jazul trey that gave the Aces their first taste of the lead, 23-21, in the final minute. The score remained unchanged at the buzzer.
Powered by a reinvigorated performance from their big men, San Miguel took back the lead, 29-28, four minutes into the second period. Sonny Thoss immediately responded with a hook shot on the other end to give the lead back to the Aces, signalling the start of a trade of baskets between the two squads. At the half, the score was all tied up, 41-41.
Capitalizing on a 6-0 start in their second half campaign, the Aces managed to hold on to the lead in the early part the third quarter. A couple of big baskets from Marcio Lassiter brought the Beermen within striking distance once more around the halfway point, 57-58. David Semerad’s putback with 4:30 left on the clock gave San Miguel the lead, 59-58. After another late-quarter shootout, the score remained tied heading into the fourth, 71-71.
The two squads continued trading salvos to open the final period. Thanks to Semerad and later, a reinvigorated June Mar Fajardo, the Beermen managed to pull away at the halfway point, building an 86-79 lead.
The Beermen were able to hold the Aces scoreless for more than four minutes of play. A triple from Lassiter approaching the final two minutes kept the Beermen up by seven, 89-82. Capitalizing on a turnover by Alex Cabagnot, the Aces had the chance to save their game with a triple by Cyrus Baguio, but the veteran bricked the shot. Despite a valiant effort put up by the Aces to break the dry spell in the next few possessions, they found themselves unable to find success at the rim. Two made free throws by Calvin Abueva with 56 seconds left on the clock finally put an end to the drought, bringing the Aces within five, 84-89.
The Aces got their lease on life with just around 25 seconds left in the final quarter, when a stealthy layup from Abueva put the Aces within three, 86-89. After drawing the foul and burning down the clock, Arwind Santos sank two free throws to extend the San Miguel lead to five, 91-86, with 18.1 left on the clock. The last 18 seconds of action saw both squads miss in their respective ends of the court following big defensive stops. Two free throws from Ronald Tubid pushed the lead to 93-86 to cap off the win for the Beermen.
Player of the Game Santos had 19 points, nine rebounds, and five blocks for the Beermen. His frontcourt partner and recently-crowned Best Player of the Conference June Mar Fajardo had 19 points, 13 rebounds, and five blocks. San Miguel now leads the best of five series at 3-2. A victory in Game 6 on Sunday will give the Beermen their first All-Filipino championship since 2001.