#PBA2016 PHILIPPINE CUP GAME 7 PREVIEW: SAN MIGUEL BEERMEN vs ALASKA ACES - HISTORY WILL BE MADE!

Images from the PBA/Inquirer.
Having Game 7 alone is enough for any basketball fan to be extremely excited, but this Game 7 is going to be one for the books. 

The Alaska Aces have never won the PHL Cup since 2000, have never won it since coach Tim Cone bolted for B-Meg years ago. They have a chance to write their own place in the history books by winning Game 7. Perhaps more importantly, however, they have one final shot at escaping the ignominy of being the only professional basketball team (in the PBA or NBA) to ever lead 3-0 in a series (AND lead by 11 points in the final 3 minutes of Game 4) and end up losing the entire series. Alaska wants to be remembered for the right reason, and the only way to do that is to win the championship.

Speaking of history, the San Miguel Beermen have already achieved a measure of it, being the first PBA team to ever force a Game 7 after being down 0-3. They can make an even more historic impact, though, if they actually complete their awe-inspiring comeback and pocket their second PHL Cup in a row. They have everything going for them right now — an intact roster and tons of momentum — so this will be the first time they will go into a game in this series as the overwhelming favorites. The championship and all the benefits that go along with it will be sweet, but achieving an all-time important, potentially game-changing place in basketball lore will be even better. The Beermen have the chance to not just be champions, they have the chance to be immortals.

1. ALA: MANUEL’S MUSCLE
Vic Manuel has been ALA’s best, most consistent player in this series. As early as Game 4, he was on-track to win the Finals MVP plum, and, frankly speaking, he may still win it even if ALA loses this series. That’s how good he has been. Of course, Manuel certainly would rather have the conference title, and the only way the Aces can do that is by letting Manuel’s muscle carry them the whole game.

Finals stats: 20.8ppg, 9.0rpg, 1.5apg, 61.6 FG%, 73.1 FT%
Game 6: 21pts, 9rebs, 1ast, 1blk, 9/14 FGs


2. ALA: UNLEASH THE BEAST
- Aside from Manuel, one guy who definitely needs to get going is the Beast himself, Calvin Abueva. Now Abueva has been solid in this series, but he the Aces need nothing short of his best, beastliest game for them to pull off a Game 7 win. Abueva needs to stamp his class on both ends of the hardwood, else the Beermen, given all their momentum, may just run away with this whole thing.

Finals stats: 12.8ppg, 8.8rpg, 2.0apg, 37.7 FG%
Game 6: 17pts, 9rebs, 1ast, 1stl, 4/10 FGs


3. ALA: CASIO ANYARE?
- JV Casio has been just a pale shadow of his real self in this series. In ALA’s first 16 games, he scored in double-figures 8 times, but so far this series he has broken the double-digit barrier just twice in six contests. He is the team’s best PG, so it goes without saying that he needs to play really well for them to win. Against guys like ALex Cabagnot and Chris Ross, both of whom have taken turns dominating for SMB, Casio will need to bring out his very best.

First 16 games: 9.7ppg, 2.8rpg, 3.1apg, 1.5 triples per game, 37.5 3pt%, 42.1 FG%
Finals stats: 6.8ppg, 3.2rpg, 2.2apg, 1.5 triples per game, 34.6 3pt%, 35.1 FG% 


4. ALA: WE NOT ME?
- All throughout the conference, ALA has been one of the best teams in terms of team play, ball movement, and just involving as many players as possible. That’s why they have been christened the “We Not Me” team of the league. In the Finals, however, the Aces have gotten away from that a little bit. They are averaging fewer assists in this series than they have the entire conference, and that’s a troubling fact. The Aces need to rediscover their sublime playmaking, else they fall into the trap of getting rattled playing out of character.

First 16 games: 20.3 apg, they assist on 54.0% of their made FGs, 8 players scoring 7 points or more per game (Manuel, Abueva, Banchero, Thoss, Casio, Baguio, Jazul, Hontiveros)
Finals: 16.2apg, they assist on just 46.9% of their made FGs, only 5 players scoring 7 points or more per game (Manuel, Abueva, Banchero, Baguio, Jazul)
*Maybe we can have pie charts to illustrate these


5. SMB: THE KRAKEN EFFECT
- One of the biggest developments late in this series has been the return of the reigning BPC and MVP, June Mar Fajardo, to SMB’s active roster. The Kraken, despite not being 100%, has surely had a profound effect on both teams the past couple of games. He has given SMB an added dimension on both ends of the floor, and, at the same time, he has made life extra difficult for the Aces also on both ends. The Aces have had to adjust their offense and defesne to accommodate for JMF’s presence, and that has certainly forced ALA to commit significant adjustments. 

Finals stats: 14.5ppg, 5.5rpg, 1.0spg, 55.6 FG%
Game 6: 16pts, 7rebs, 1ast, 2stls, 1blk, 6/13 FGs

SMB in Games 1-4 (w/o JMF): 89.0ppg, 92.3ppg allowed, 30.3 FG%, 46.3rpg, 14.8apg, 4.3bpg
SMB in Games 5-6 (w/ JMF): 93.0ppg, 81.0ppg allowed, 39.6 FG%, 55.5rpg, 16.5apg, 5.0bpg


6. SMB: MAXIMIZING MARCIO
- One guy who has also come alive of late is Marcio Lassiter. He has revved up his scoring in the past 3 games, helping SMB avoid getting knocked off in Game 4-6. With his ability to stretch the defense and space the floor, Lassiter should remain a vital part of SMB’s offense in Game 7. If JMF is the team’s interior anchor on both ends, then Lassiter is the guy who will make ALA pay if they sag off the perimeter.  

Games 1-3: 12.7ppg, 4.0rpg, 1.0 triple per game, 21.4 3pt%, 37.1 FG%
Games 4-6: 21.0ppg, 7.7rpg, 3.0 triples per game, 50.0 3pt%, 43.2 FG%


7. SMB: POWER TO THE FRONTLINE
- Another thing SMB can really throw at the Aces is their powerful and deep frontline. SMB can turn to former MVP Arwind Santos and veterans Gabby Espinas and Yancy De Ocampo in a pinch, and all have had their shining moments in this series. With JMF attracting much of the defensive attention of ALA and Lassiter stretching the D, Santos, YDO, and Espinas have the opportunity to really do some damage around the basket. 

Finals averages:
Santos: 11.0ppg, 11.0rpg, 2.0apg, 1.5spg, 2.0bpg, 1.3 triples per game
YDO: 9.5ppg, 6.7rpg, 1.7apg, 45.9 FG%
Espinas: 9.3ppg, 7.7rpg, 51.3 FG%


8. SMB: GET TO THE LINE
- Another aspect of SMB’s game that has really helped them get back in this series has been their ability to draw fouls and get to the line. On average, the Beermen have nearly doubled ALA’s FT attempts in this series, and in a game that could go down the wire, getting to the stripe and nailing those charities will be crucial. If SMB can continue to exploit this edge, they have the inside track to annexing the title. 

Finals FT attempts: SMB 192 (32.0pg), ALA 112 (18.7pg)
Finals  FTs made: SMB 139 (23.2pg), ALA 83 (13.8pg)


9. KEY MATCH-UP: VIC MANUEL X JUNE MAR FAJARDO
- They probably won’t guard each other much, but make no mistake, the respective leaders of both teams — Vic Manuel for ALA and June Mar Fajardo for SMB — will be the barometers for their success. Manuel needs to put up huge numbers. There’s no other way to go about it. Otherwise, the Aces stand to lose big and go down in flames. On the other end, JMF needs to play through his lingering injury and be solid enough to anchor his team’s efforts on both ends. Unlike Manuel, JMF can afford to not be his team’s best player because the Beermen have so many other weapons on whom they can rely, but the reigning BPC and MVP still needs to be a rock in the middle for the defending champs. 

Manuel season stats: 16.3ppg, 7.9rpg, 1.2apg, 1.0spg, 57.0 FG%
JMF season stats: 24.8ppg, 13.9rpg, 1.5apg, 2.0bpg, 58.9 FG%

Manuel Finals stats: 20.8ppg, 9.0rpg, 1.5apg, 61.6 FG%, 73.1 FT%
JMF Finals stats: 14.5ppg, 5.5rpg, 1.0spg, 55.6 FG%



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