7 p.m. – Rain or Shine vs Alaska (Game 4)
-RoS leads the best-of-7 series, 3-0
Game 1: RoS 105-97
Game 2: RoS 105-103
Game 3: RoS 112-108
If there ever is a shot at redemption and a chance to wipe the slate clean, this has to be it for the Alaska Aces.
Backed against the wall by an opponent even more terrifying than the force that tormented them in three recent championship showdowns, the Aces, with a 0-3 deficit to the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters in the Oppo-PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals, have no other choice but to fight back.
That is if they don’t opt to roll over and die like they did in the first three quarters of Game 3 Friday.
Proud owners of 14 franchise crowns, the Aces face the specter of getting swept in the finals for the second time in three conferences, having absorbed a 4-0 shutout to San Miguel Beer in the 2015 Governors’ Cup.
Game 4 of the best-of-the 7 series is at 7 tonight at the Smart Araneta Coliseum before the awarding of the Nice Day Best Player of the Conference and the Bobby Parks Best Import awards, with the Elasto Painters looking to hand team owners Terry Que and Raymond Yu their second championship and coach Yeng Guiao his seventh title overall.
“We have a foot inside the door and we’ll try to finish it on Friday, but I offer no guarantees,” said Guiao, a Nostradamus of sorts in the past when it comes to predicting the outcome of a series as he did in the 2012 Governors’ Cup finals against B-Meg and this conference’s best-of-5 semis against San Miguel.
“That would only put unnecessary pressure on the players,” he said. “I’ll make my guarantees after Game 4.”
Being circumspect despite a 3-0 lead may be a new thing, especially for the brash-talking Guiao, but he has good reason to be cautious.
“Now we know it can be done, and San Miguel coming back from 0-3 will be in our minds going to Friday,” he said.
The agony and ecstasy created by that series remain fresh.
Alaska stormed to a 3-0 advantage over San Miguel in the now historic 2016 Philippine Cup finals a few months ago only to behold divine intervention and unfolding destiny as SMB won the next four games in a ‘Beeracle’ triumph for the ages.
The Aces also bore witness to the modern day reincarnation of NBA legend Willis Reed in 6-foot-10 SMB center June Mar Fajardo, the one main difference separating SMB and Alaska in their pursuit of the rarest of PBA feats.
Fajardo hyper-extended his knee in the semifinal series against Rain or Shine and missed the first four games of the championship, limping slightly in street clothes to center-court prior to Game 4 to receive his BPC award.
He sat out that game. But in what proved to be the turning point of the series, the Beermen rose from the dead and denied the Aces a coveted sweep, rallying from 11 points down with three minutes left to steal Game 4 in overtime at the Philsports Arena. At the final buzzer, Fajardo stood from his seat, looked up at the multi-colored balloons still tethered up the catwalk, shook his head and smiled.
The rest, of course, is unprecedented history.
Fajardo returned, rested and healed, and presided over a total demolition of the shocked Aces in Games 5, 6 and 7 as SMB became only the first team to successfully climb out of a 0-3 hole in the PBA’s 41-year existence.
The Aces know the template only too well. Now they have to start retracing San Miguel’s footsteps.
Needless to say, Alaska, at this point, has nothing that approaches Fajardo’s comeback in sheer drama and impact.
They do have Calvin Abueva similarly picking up his BPC plaque before Game 4. But unless the former San Sebastian Stag transforms into the much-publicized Beast and starts baring his claws and fangs, instead of playing mind games with Beau Belga and posturing for the fans, the individual award would feel empty sitting in his trophy cabinet.
Alex Compton, the Alaska coach, had used every imaginable negative word in the book to describe his team’s non-performance in the middle two quarters of Game 3 – disgrace, disrespect, distaste, dishonor, disgust, even aberration.
If these damning adjectives don’t fire up the Aces, then nothing else will – not their shattered full-court trapping defense; not import Rob Dozier, the meekest, it seems, of all Memphis Tigers, not Vic Manuel and Eric Menk returning for Game 4.
This one could be over even before it begins – unless Alaska still has a hidden ace up its sleeves.
An Aces win today will raise the stakes sky-high, a fact not lost on Rain or Shine.