As of this writing, the Alaska Aces are enjoying a 3-0 lead over the San Miguel Beermen in their best-of-seven championship series of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Philippine Cup.
I have no idea if the Beermen were able to extend the series with a win in Game 4 and live to fight another day. Two weeks ago, I predicted that Alaska would take its first All-Filipino title since 2000, but not before Game 7. But it looks like this one will be over soon (if it ain’t over yet). It’s surely far-fetched for any team to recover from a 0-3 deficit and go on to win the series, even for an exquisite team like San Miguel Beer.
Of course, the Beermen missed badly the services of June Mar Fajardo, who injured his knee during the semis. If the series reached Games 5 or 6, the PBA’s top center is expected to suit up and this could alter the complexion of the finals.
One can argue that the Aces got lucky with Fajardo’s injury. But there should not be any doubt that Alaska is overachieving in this series, surprising everyone with impressive victories in the first three finals games. Now under head coach Alex Compton, the Aces seek to take their 15th PBA plum, which they last won in 2013 with Luigi Trillo at the helm. Compton also wants payback after losing in two conference finals last year versus San Miguel.
In the three games, Alaska bested San Miguel in most departments – Total FG (45.57% – 40.85%), Rebounds (47 – 39), Assists (15.67 – 14.33), Steals (5.67 – 5), Blocks (4 – 2.33), Fast Break Points (9.33 – 5.67), Second Chance Points (15 – 6), and Turnover Points (18.33 – 12.67).
The Aces are undoubtedly displaying excellent chemistry in the series. They also show a lot of energy in both ends of the floor. They apply relentless ball pressure on the Beermen and also look for every opportunity to run and score in transition. San Miguel simply ran out of gas in the final moments of the games because of Alaska’s pace.
But Compton unleashed a deadly weapon in the finals by the name of Vic Manuel. The former Philippine School of Business Administration Jaguar is playing an inspired series, leading all scorers with 19.7 points per game on top of 6.3 boards, 1.7 assists, a steal and a block per outing, and a remarkable 63.4% shooting from the field. The 6’4” power forward has been a pillar of strength for the Aces, creating match up problems despite being undersized for his position. Yes, it could have been different with Fajardo around. But Manuel not only provides the muscle for his team but also the inspiration for the rest of the Aces to play with passion and vivacity. Called the “Muscle Man,” Manuel has come a long way from being a journey man in his two-year stint in the PBA, where he moved from GlobalPort to Meralco to Air21, and finally to Alaska.
This season has been a breakout year for the Nueva Ecija native, who also led the Aces in scoring during the elims. In a team built around Calvin Abueva, Jayvee Casio, Cyrus Baguio, Chris Banchero, Sonny Thoss, RJ Jazul and Dondon Hontiveros, Manuel has been a true gem for Alaska. In the finals, he has been Alaska’s ace and king.
As for San Miguel, it doesn’t help that some are playing sub par in the finals. Most notable is Arwind Santos’ 7.7 scoring norm in 31.3 minutes, which is a far cry from his 13 points per game during the semis. The Beermen need the former league MVP to get his A-game going to make a comeback in the series. He is a perfect match-up for Manuel, with his long limbs, athleticism and skills. Limiting Manuel’s output is crucial for San Miguel’s resurgence in the finals. But also playing below expectation are Chris Ross, Chris Lutz, Ryan Arana, Gabby Espinas and JayR Reyes. Man for man, the Beermen can still match up well with the Aces, even without Fajardo. But they need to equal Alaska’s energy and grit as well.
It looks like though that there’s no stopping the Aces’ date with destiny.