This was supposed to be over in four games. This was supposed to result in Alex Compton's first PBA Championship as a head coach and Vic Manuel was supposed to be crowned Finals MVP of the 2015-2016 PBA Philippine Cup. This was supposed to be Alaska's 15th championship, placing them just six behind San Miguel Beer's league leading total. This was supposed to exorcise the ghosts of those two Finals series that Alaska lost to San Miguel last season.
These were all supposed to happen, but Leo Austria's San Miguel Beer squad had another thing or two in mind.
Without the injured two-time Most Valuable Player and newly minted Best Player of the Conference June Mar Fajardo due to a knee injury, the Beermen had to dig deep and find other ways to stem the Aces' tide if they were to defend their Philippine Cup title. With Arwind Santos misfiring and a Fajardo-sized hole in the middle, Austria's wards checked the size of their fighting hearts and leaned on Chris Ross, Alex Cabagnot and Marcio Lassiter to snatch a 110-104 overtime win in Game 4. What was 3-0 was now 3-1.
When Fajardo's knee buckled in the semifinal round against Rain or Shine, the hopes of both the Beermen but also the Gilas-Pilipinas squad looked crushed. This was after all, a very big man just nearing the prime of his career. A nearly unguardable force who knew how to use his body and developing skills to carve space in the paint while also providing a presence in the paint.
Knowing this, Alaska attacked the shaded lane in the first three games of the series as Manuel, Calvin Abueva, Sonny Thoss, Chris Banchero, and even Noy Baclao began seeing the unguarded rim. This allowed Cyrus Baguio, Dondon Hontiveros, RJ Jazul, Ping Exciminiano and Jvee Casio to plant themselves beyond the arc as their bigs frolicked inside. Imagine their collective shock when Fajardo checked into the first quarter of Game 5 doing his best Willis Reed impression.
The mere presence of the Cebuano behemoth sent the San Miguel faithful into a frenzy, and it inspired his teammates to step on the accelerator. Another overtime game later, and San Miguel had beaten Alaska again, 86-73. Santos finally awoke from his slumber with his big man by his side, and exploded to the tune of 22 points, 16 rebounds, four assists, four blocks, and three steals. Fajardo provided 13 points and four rebounds in limited action, but it was his inspiration that clearly drove the San Miguel engine. The series was now 3-2.
For Alaska, the pressure was now mounting. Unable to close out their rival in four games, they were still in control of this series, or so they said. The noose was tightening on their collective throats as the specter of making history in the worst way possible was becoming a reality. No team in the 41-year history of the PBA had ever lost a Best-of-Seven Finals after being up 3-0. All the smiles, the chestbumping, and hollering that the Aces showed for the first three games of this series were almost non-existent now.
Perhaps looking to change their fortunes, the Aces entered Game 6 with their alternate black jerseys as they desperately wanted to finally close this series out. Yet once again, it was the Beermen who had the greater sense of urgency and seemingly played without pressure despite being on the brink of elimination for the third straight game. With Casio and Baguio misfiring miserably, the Alaska big men could be double teamed inside. Alaska is averaging fewer assists in this series than they have throughout the conference, the absolute worst time to move away from their stated mantra of “we not me.” With San Miguel's guns blazing, Game 6 went the Beermen's way again, 100-89. Series tied, 3-3.
It would be easy to bury Alaska after their seemingly epic collapse in Games 4 to 6. Yet that was the same thing that could have been said about San Miguel after Games 1 to 3. Of course, Alaska has been relatively healthy throughout this conference and weren't missing a behemoth in the paint like Fajardo. There is no doubt that Compton and his wards are now feeling unbelievable pressure. But in a Game 7 scenario, there is more than enough pressure to go around for both teams.
A monumental chokejob or a historic comeback? An epic recovery or a monstrous thorn removed from a team's collective side? The Beast and the Muscleman or the Kraken and Spider-Man? In a seventh game, anything can happen.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.