MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATED) The Alaska Aces overcame a double-digit deficit then dominated in crunch time to put away the undermanned San Miguel Beermen, 100-91, in Game 1 of their best-of-seven PBA Philippine Cup Finals Sunday at the Araneta Coliseum.
San Miguel, playing without injured star center June Mar Fajardo, led by double-digits early in the fourth quarter and kept in step with Alaska until the final two minutes, when the Aces' pressure defense finally helped them gain separation from the Beermen.
"San Miguel handled us for almost 44 minutes," Alaska head coach Alex Compton said after the game. "I don't know how long they had the lead, but it's a winning team, well-coached, and they have winners in their team."
"I thought they handled us most of the game, and I didn't like the way we were playing," he admitted.
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San Miguel indeed got off to a strong start and even took a 78-66 lead early in the fourth quarter after Yancy de Ocampo, who started in the place of Fajardo, drained his second three-pointer of the game.
Alaska slowly but surely, however, clawed their way back in the game, thanks to Vic Manuel and Chris Banchero, who attacked the San Miguel big men and grabbed key offensive rebounds for second chance points. It was Banchero who gave Alaska the lead, 91-88, with 2:16 to go after he completed a three-point play.
San Miguel tied the game for the last time at 91-all with 1:57 remaining when Alex Cabagnot drained a huge three-pointer, but it would turn out to be the defending champions' last basket of the ball game.
Manuel capped his game-long brilliance by hitting the go-ahead bucket in Alaska's next possession, and JVee Casio, whom San Miguel had repeatedly attacked defensively, made up for his earlier miscues by hitting a backbreaking three-pointer that gave Alaska a 96-91 lead with 1:12 remaining.
San Miguel had their chances, but Cabagnot and Marcio Lassiter missed three-pointers, the Beermen committed crucial turnovers, and Alaska made them pay in transition with Banchero and Cyrus Baguio putting the finishing touches on Alaska's Game 1 victory.
"The stretch that we were able to make stops and get offensive rebounds to score, with maybe under five minutes left, that was when the momentum started to go to us, and we were able to string together a bunch of stops," Compton explained.
"San Miguel handled us very well for most of the game, and we just had some guys step up and make some plays late," he added.
Manuel tied his career-high with 24 and five rebounds, while Baguio added 16 points and Banchero finished with 15 points and eight rebounds, four of which came on the offensive end.
Cabagnot had 20 points, Lassiter added 19, and de Ocampo had 18 points for San Miguel, but the Beermen were out-rebounded 48-28, and Alaska scored 23 second chance points after grabbing 20 offensive rebounds. The 28 rebounds grabbed by San Miguel was the lowest output in the franchise's history.
"I'm still happy with the way we performed tonight," said SMB head coach Leo Austria after the game. "We were up in the final three minutes but with the defense of Alaska, they succeeded."
Austria, however, rued their poor rebounding and costly turnovers, and admitted they missed the presence of Fajardo. The coach said Fajardo's injury is not serious but they are prioritizing the center's speedy recovery.
Compton admitted that Alaska had issues dealing with the Fajardo-less Beermen, especially in the early goings of the game.
"It's a hard adjustment, having the most dominant player in the entire nation by far, then all of a sudden he goes out and they had a day to adjust. But they did, and they handled it well, and we didn't handle it well for a while," he acknowledged.
It didn't help that Alaska committed 13 turnovers in the first half while allowing Cabagnot to break away for 11 points. The Beermen were on top 42-38 at the halftime break and remained well ahead for most of the third quarter until Alaska's late push that the defending champions could not answer.
San Miguel finished the game with 18 turnovers that led to 24 points for the Aces. Moreover, Alaska cleaned up their act in the second half, turning the ball over only six more times. They finished the game shooting 52% from the field and had a 75-17 advantage in bench points.
Alaska will gun for a 2-0 series lead on Tuesday at the Araneta Coliseum.
ALASKA 100 - Manuel 24, Baguio 16, Banchero 15, Abueva 12, Exciminiano 6, Jazul 6, Casio 5, Hontiveros 5, Menk 5, Thoss 4, Baclao 2, Dela Rosa 0.
SAN MIGUEL 91 - Cabagnot 20, Lassiter 19, De Ocampo 18, Tubid 13, Espinas 11, Arana 4, Santos 4, Ross 2, Lutz 0, Semerad 0.
Quarters: 11-4, 42-38, 75-66, 100-91
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