#PBA2016 PHILIPPINE CUP FINALS GAME 5 PREVIEW: SAN MIGUEL BEERMEN vs ALASKA ACES - LIVE TO FIGHT!

(image from the PBA/Inquirer)
The San Miguel Beermen looked dead in the water after trailing by 11 points with less than 4 minutes to go in Game 4, but they somehow found a way to rally, force overtime, trail again in the extra period, and rally again to finally put Alaska’s brooms back in the closet and push the titular series to a fifth game. In effect, coach Leo Austria’s wards clawed and dug their way out of a sizeable Game 4 hole and live to fight another day. It’s a tremendous testament to the  Beermen’s resiliency, who showed that they, too, can display a #NSD attitude.

The Alaska Aces, meanwhile, will look back at Game 4 as a wasted opportunity. They had a double-digit lead late in regulation and a 4-point edge early in the OT, and they still they lost. They had the Beermen on the ropes, but they just couldn’t finish them off. Now Game 5 turns into a virtual must-win for Alaska as giving SMB a second straight W means the momentum has completely shifted in this series, and every passing game further opens up the possibility that reigning MVP and BPC June Mar Fajardo may be able to suit up. Make no mistake, the Alaska Aces are living to fight for their lives and for their title!

1. SMB: ROSS THE BOSS
- For sure, SMB would’ve bitten the bucket in Game 4 had it not been for Chris Ross. To say Ross was HUGE in Game 4 is an understatement, as he almost single-handedly led SMB’s fightback late in the final frame. His near-triple-double line is a testament to his #NeverSayDie spirit. It’s unlikely he will be able to play that well again (given his averages), but he is surely someone Alaska cannot overlook.

First 3 games: 3.7ppg, 2.0rpg, 2.3apg.
Game 4: 11pts, 11rebs, 9asts, 2stls.


2. SMB: ESPINAS EXCELS!
- In an ironic twist of fate, it was former Alaska big man Gabby Espinas who gave SMB a big lift for much of Game 4. The former PCU Dolphin put together arguably his best game of the season yet, unloading a wicked double-double on his former club. In doing so, he somewhat compensated for the continued absence of reigning BPC and MVP June Mar Fajardo. Like Ross, however, Espinas will be hard-pressed to duplicate the feat in Game 5.

First 3 games: 7.7ppg, 7.0rpg, 50.0 FG%
Game 4: 21pts, 14rebs, 2asts, 1blk, 8/12 FGs


3. SMB: LASSITER UNLEASHED!
- One guy who has been sort of a missing link for SMB this series has been Marcio Lassiter, but the former Gilas sniper finally let loose a wonderful outing. He hit 5 threes in Game 4, helping SMB stay within striking distance of ALA, and eventually playing a significant role in their mighty fourth quarter comeback. Now this is one guy who is expected to deliver big time with JMF still in sick bay, so he will have to put up big numbers anew in Game 5 for the Beermen to stay alive.

First 3 games: 12.7ppg, 4.0rpg, 1.0 triple per game
Game 4: 26pts, 6rebs, 5 triples.


4. SMB: RESILIENCY
- To come back from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter is one thing. To come back from a 0-3 hole in a best-of-7 is something completely different and utterly much more difficult to do. It’s so tough, actually, that AFAIK no basketball team (whether in the PBA or NBA) has been able to do this successfully. The key trait to even have a shot at it is boundless resiliency, and, if anything, SMB’s Game 4 rally showed everyone that they have just that.

First 44:30 of Game 4: ALA 93, SMB 82
Last 8:30 of Game 4: ALA 11, SMB 28


5. ALA: VIC NOT VICTORIOUS
- As expected, the Muscle Man came to play in Game 4, recording another sweet double-double for the Aces, but, alas, it was not enough to finish off SMB. It goes without saying that Manuel needs to continue being his dominant self, else the Aces stand to lose in Game 5 and momentum swings wildly (and perhaps permanently?) in the Beermen’s favor. Calvin Abueva is ALA’s heart and soul, but in this series, the Aces will go only as far as Manuel takes them.

Season stats: 15.4ppg, 7.3rpg, 1.2apg, 1.1spg, 56.3 FG%
Game 4: 20pts, 13rebs, 2asts, 1blk, 7/13 FGs


6. ALA: JAZUL GOES ICE COLD
- RJ Jazul was ALA’s leading scorer in their semis triumph over GlobalPort, but the former Letran Knight has mysteriously been playing rather pedestrian basketball in the Finals. He shot 0/10 in Game 4, and that’s certainly something coach Alex Compton doesn’t want to see happen again. He also had some miscues in the fourth period that didn’t do the Aces any favors. Without a doubt, Jazul needs to rediscover his touch for Alaska to regain the upper-hand in Game 5. 

Jazul in the semis: 13.2ppg, 4.8rpg, 2.8apg, 1.0spg, 40.0 3pt%
Jazul Games 1-3: 6.3ppg, 2.0rpg, 2.0apg, 1.0spg, 12.5 3pt%
Jazul Game 4: 4pts, 2rebs, 3asts, 2stls, 0/7 3pts, 0/10 FGs


7. ALA: DEATH BY TURNOVERS
- Turnovers kill, and that’s exactly what happened to the Aces in Game 4. The usually crafty and careful Aces got sucked into a host of lapses in the endgame, where they committed nearly half of their total turnovers. Needless to say, coach Alex will probably strongly stress the need to take much better care of the basketball and to make much better decisions in crunch time. 

Game 4 turnovers: ALA 22, SMB 11
Game 4 pts off TOs: ALA 11, SMB 17
Game 4 turnovers in 4Q & OT: ALA 9, SMB 5


8. ALA: TOO MANY FOULS
- Alaska also fell into the trap of fouling way too much. The Aces are known for their physicality, but that came back to bite them in Game 4, where three key players fouled out and where they gave up 16 more free throw attempts to the Beermen. That’s just not the way to clinch a seven-game series and bag the title.

Game 4 fouls: ALA 43, SMB 29
Fouled out:
ALA - JV Casio, Calvin Abueva, Dondon Hontiveros
SMB - Chris Ross, Gabby Espinas
Game 4 Free throw attempts: ALA 30, SMB 46


9. KEY MATCH-UP: YANCY DE OCAMPO X SONNY THOSS
- This battle of the big men in the middle is between two relatively overlooked centers, but their presence will be very crucial in determining who has the edge in Game 5. If Yancy can get his midrange-to-perimeter game going, it’ll force ALA to stretch their D and potentially make it easier for guys like Arwind Santos, Alex Cabagnot, and Ronald Tubid to attack the basket. On the other end, if Thoss can establish himself as a low post threat, SMB will really feel the brunt of not having June Mar Fajardo around. Vic Manuel is alreayd one tough customer, but if Thoss ends up scoring a bunch, too, then it may be lights out for the defending champs. 

YDO season stats: 3.9ppg, 3.4rpg, 43.1 FG%
Thoss season stats: 9.4ppg, 5.6rpg, 1.9apg, 52.5 FG%

YDO Finals stats: 9.8ppg, 7.8rpg, 1.8apg, 44.0 FG%
Thoss Finals stats: 7.3ppg, 5.5rpg, 1/0apg, 1.3bpg, 40.0 FG%


10. IS SMB OUT TO MAKE HISTORY?
- No basketball team (not in the PBA or NBA) has ever rallied from a 0-3 deficit in a best-of-7 series, but that’s exactly what SMB needs to do to survive Alaska here. The Beermen, quite literally, cannot afford to lose another game lest they finally relinquish their PHL Cup crown to the Aces. It has never been done before, but if the Beermen can rally all the way back fro 11 points down with less than 4 minutes left, they just may be the team to make history here.


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