by Tito S. Talao
Game Today (Smart Araneta)
8 p.m. – Rain or Shine vs Alaska
Manila, Philippines – Folksinger Paul Simon knows of “fifty ways to leave your lover.” Alaska coach Alex Compton, on the other hand, knows of fifty-one reasons why the Alaska Aces should have been gone a long time ago.
After getting blown away, 123-72, by Rain or Shine in the elimination, Compton, who recently replaced Luigi Trillo at the helm, could have packed a few things in a bag and left while the Aces spiraled down to obscurity with a forever shattered image.
Instead, Compton gathered the broken pieces together and glued them back on one by one, leading one of the most remarkable comebacks in league history. Now the resilient Aces, in absolute ruins just a little after June started, are amazingly on the threshold of another championship appearance – and the month isn’t even over yet.
Alaska, surprisingly ahead 2-1 in the PBA PLDT Home Telpad Governors’ Cup semifinals, hopes to put away Rain or Shine in Game 4 of their best-of-5 series at 8 tonight at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Only a few other stories could be more riveting.
From the ashes, the Aces got up from that crushing 51-point loss to win their next four games, including a 92-81 quarterfinal playoff victory over Barangay Ginebra San Miguel and a 97-93 semifinal Game 1 triumph over the Elasto Painters.
They fell to the tenacity of Arizona Reid and the hot shooting of Paul Lee and Jeff Chan in surrendering Game Two, 99-87, but then came back strong in Game Three, 104-94, behind ailing Henry Walker (26 points, 13 rebounds) and 21 points off 29 RoS turnovers to move up, 2-1.
Alaska intends to hang around a little longer, especially with Walker keeping his emotions in check and his injured elbow under treatment.
“(I’m) just proud of Henry because he came out and battled with pain and all,” said Compton.
He could be as proud of at least two other Aces.
Calvin Abueva added 14 points on 6 of 10 from the floor to go with 7 rebounds, while Vic Manuel posted a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds, helping put Alaska at the door of its salvation.
The Aces have battled through even more anguish and shame but are now on the verge of revenge and redemption.
A victory over the Elasto Painters will wipe the slate clean as far as Rain or Shine is concerned. Making it back to the finals after last year’s Commissioner’s Cup will also restore the faith of the Alaska diehards who underwent through hard, trying times after the Aces floundered in the last two conferences and capped it all with one of the PBA’s worst defeats ever.
But Rain or Shine will not go down without a fight. It will, however, need Paul Lee to lead the way once more.
Chan had 22 points, Reid 17 and four other E-Painters 10 points each. But Lee uncharacteristically shot just 3 of 12, missing 4 of 5 three-point attempts in 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, Game 4 of the series between San Mig Super Coffee and Talk ‘N Text was ongoing at presstime, with the Mixers (2-1) again gunning for a berth in the finals after getting muzzled in Game Three, 112-86.
ALASKA 104 – Walker 26, Abueva 14, Espinas 12, Hontiveros 11, Thoss 11, Manuel 11, Casio 7, Dela Cruz 6, Baguio 4, Jazul 2.
RAIN OR SHINE 94 – Chan 22, Reid 17, Arana 10, Almazan 10, Ibanes 10, Lee 10, Belga 5, Tiu 5, Teng 3, Rodriguez 2, Uyloan 0, Cruz 0.
Quarters: 29-23, 53-46, 78-66, 104-94