MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – It's been 18 years since the last time a team won a Grand Slam in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA).
San Mig Coffee did just that on Wednesday night when it withstood a furious comeback by Rain or Shine in Game 5 of their PBA Governors' Cup title clash in a cliffhanger 92-89 victory in front of a jampacked crowd at the Araneta Coliseum.
More than 23,000 spectators witnessed the Coffee Mixers complete the historic Grand Slam, which was last won by the Alaska Aces back in 1996.
Through the combined efforts of two-time Most Valuable Player James Yap, Marqus Blakely, and the rest of the Coffee Mixers, they were able to post a comfortable 16-point lead over Rain or Shine.
But the Elasto Painters, who have become the newest “never-say-die” team in the PBA, simply refused to go away and slashed the deficit to just 3 points in the payoff period.
Yap, however, sprang with the go-ahead jumper and San Mig’s defense held up against Rain or Shine’s perimeter attempts in the closing seconds to formalize the Coffee Mixers' claim on the Grand Slam.
“I'll probably sit down for a while and think about this thing and what happened, try to figure out how we did it,” said San Mig coach Tim Cone, the same architect of Alaska’s PBA Grand slam in 1996.
“I just know we have a great core of players, of course led by James, PJ, Ping, Joe and Mark and of course Marqus,” said Cone, who now has 18 title victories under his name.
San Mig Coffee thus joined the Crispa Redmanizers, San Miguel Beer, and the Alaska Milkmen as the only grand-slam winners in the history of the league.
Yap, who finished Game 5 with 29 points, was eventually named as the Finals MVP due to his role in making the most crucial shots during the 5-game series. He averaged 16.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game in the finals.
“Nagpapasalamat ako kay God, talagang ibinigay sa akin ito[ng award]. And of course nagpapasalamat ako sa family ko, syemp’re nandito sila ngayon... sa girlfriend ko,” Yap said, referring to his Italian girlfriend Michela Cazzola.
“And of course kay Coach Tim, the best ka. Magaling ka talaga na coach,” he said.
After trailing, 16-23, in the first quarter, Rain or Shine’s Arizona Reid and Paul Lee stepped up their attack to tie the score at 34-all. But a couple of one-handers from Yap and a reverse layup by Joe Devance pushed San Mig ahead for a 43-38 halftime lead.
The Elasto Painters were forced to go all-Filipino in the third quarter after Reid rested his sprained ankle. Without an import to contend with, Marqus Blakely and Devance pummeled Rain or Shine's defense to widen their gap to as much as 16 points, 69-53.
A limping Reid later returned to action. Reid, Lee and Raymond Almazan, managed to cut the deficit to 8 points, 63-71. Despite the pain, Reid shot from way beyond the 3-point area and drilled a couple of free throws to bring the Elasto Painters, 70-73, going into the payoff period.
Rain or Shine was closing in on San Mig, 71-73, but Yap unleashed 5 straight points to hold off the Elasto Painters, 78-72. Rain or Shine repeatedly tried to mount a fightback midway the fourth but could not get its offense going.
Beau Belga and Reid then came up with back-to-back buckets to cut San Mig’s, 90-87, with 2 minutes before regulation.
Yap came up with a crucial jumper to give San Mig a 92-89 breather. Rain or Shine had several chances to force the game into overtime but Lee, Chan, and Reid missed their 3-point attempts.
Cone thanked Rain or Shine and its coach, Yeng Guiao, for putting up a great fight.
“We kept saying that this team (Rain or Shine) will not crack, they're not gonna fall apart on you. You have to keep going at them, going at them, they won't stop playing the way they're gonna play, they're not gonna change, they've got so much trust and belief in their system,” said Cone.
“I tell you what, that all comes from Coach Yeng. And we all know that, and that what makes that team special because he's a special coach. It's just an honor to go up against him, really,” he said.