The San Miguel Beermen defeated the Alaska Aces a second straight time in Game 5, 86-73, in overtime to stay alive in their hunt for a second straight PBA Philippine Cup championship on Wednesday, January 27, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Off the heels of an improbable comeback win in Game 4, San Miguel handed Alaska its first consecutive back-to-back losses of the season to make the finals a 3-2 series.
Reigning MVP June Mar Fajardo made his return to the court after hurting his knee in Game 6 of the semifinals and played 16:28 minutes in his first appearance of the Finals.
San Miguel becomes the first team in 19 years to send a PBA Finals series to a Game 6 after being down 0-3. The last team to do it was the 1997 Alaska Aces, who eventually lost in the Commissioner’s Cup Finals to the Gordon’s Gin Boars.
No team has ever come back from a 0-3 deficit to win a PBA Finals series.
“I think the players and the fans were inspired by June Mar,” said Beermen head coach Leo Austria after his team outscored Alaska in overtime by 13.
Austria actually told the media after Game 4 that Fajardo would suit up if the Beermen force the Aces to a Game 7, but it was his reigning two-time MVP’s insistence that led to his playing two games earlier.
“We didn’t want him to play but he insisted, ‘Coach, I want to help the team,’” Austria said.
“Win or lose, he wants to be inside the court,” he added.
Fajardo finished with 13 points and 4 rebounds. Arwind Santos had an all-around performance, posting 22 points, 16 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 blocks, and 3 steals.
It was easily the former league MVP’s best game of the conference.
“I talked to him before the game: ‘I don’t need you to score. I don’t need your big points. I need your rebounds, your defense,’” Austria said of Santos.
Alex Cabagnot and Marcio Lassiter were the other Beermen in double-figures, accounting for 13 and 12 points, respectively.
“I have to salute the players, because they know what our situation is, and they showed their heart. I think that’s the heart of a champion. They don’t want to lose, and they’re playing to win,” said a pleased Austria post-game.
Vic Manuel, the favorite to win Finals MVP if Alaska becomes champion, finished with a career-high 25 points to go with 13 rebounds for the Aces.
Calvin Abueva and Chris Banchero had 12 and 10 points, respectively.
As what’s become customary with this rivalry, the game went down the wire with both teams tied at 64 with 2:06 to go following a Manuel basket.
The tie was eventually broken thanks to a Cabagnot triple with 56 seconds left, but after an Aces time-out, Dondon Hontiveros hit a 3-pointer of his own to tie the contest at 67.
With 23 seconds left, Cabagnot missed a go-ahead jumper. After an Aces time-out, Abueva misfired on a floater, sending the game to OT.
The Beermen took control from there. After Fajardo split his free throws to give his team a one-point edge, Chris Ross got his own visit to the foul line and extended the lead to 70-67.
Abueva then missed a basket and Santos converted a layup on the break. Then with 2:08 left, Ross hit another basket to give SMB a 74-67 lead with 2:08 to go.
Alaska didn’t score a field goal in OT until there were 55 seconds left when Abueva converted a layup. By then, San Miguel was up by 9 and cruised the rest of the way.
Following the game, Alaska head coach Alex Compton seemed unhappy with the free throw disparity. While the Beermen went 23-of-35 at the line, the Aces received just 5 free throws and converted 3.
“Just pointing out facts. Just pointing out the facts,” Compton said after asking those in the press room to see what jumps out on the stat sheet.
Compton did give the Beermen props, saying: “Credit to San Miguel. They did a good job, playing well the last two games.”
Game 6 is on Friday, January 29.
San Miguel (86): Santos 22, Fajardo 13, Cabagnot 12, Lassiter 11, Espinas 8, Ross 8, Lutz 6, De Ocampo 4, Reyes 1, Tubid 1, Arana 0, Heruela 0
Alaska (73): Manuel 25, Abueva 12, Banchero 10, Jazul 9, Thoss 4, Casio 3, Exciminiano 3, Hontiveros 3, Baguio 2, Menk 2, Baclao 0, Eman 0
Quarter scores: 23-20, 36-36, 52-55, 67-67, 86-73