PBA Finals 4×4: Epic comeback or great escape?

It’s going to be a wild and epic Game 7. Our panel’s answers in the final edition of the FOX Sports’ 4×4 for the PBA Philippine Cup is as just as wild and epic.

Read and tell us which side are you on.

1.  Did you ever imagine this series going to Game 7 after Alaska went up 3-0?

Richard Dy (FOX Sports Sr. PBA reporter): I honestly felt Alaska could sweep San Miguel after winning its first three games. The Aces even had a chance to wrap up the series in Game 4 after going up by 13 points entering the last four minutes of the fourth quarter. But the maze of turnovers in Game 4 gave San Miguel the confidence to make that giant comeback from there.

And with the return of June Mar Fajardo from injury, San Miguel got its inside threat back. Yes, Fajardo isn’t moving well as he use to since hurting is left knee in the semis against Rain or Shine. But what makes Fajardo effective is his ability to extend Alaska’s defense with his good mid-range shooting.

Enzo Flojo (Hoopnut Blog):  This series was over at the 3:30 mark of the 4th quarter of Game 4, with Alaska up by 11 and all but ready for the balloons to fall and for the champagne to be popped. This was Alaska’s through and through, but, somehow, they left the door ajar ever so slightly, and let the Beermen right back in it. Now it seems like Alaska’s winning Game 7 is even more improbable than SMB’s rally from down 0-3 in the series.

Rolly Mendoza (Hoopnut Blog): Alaska seemed poised to win it all after 3 games especially with SMB scrambling on both sides of the court without June Mar Fajardo. Back then, an Alaska sweep appeared inevitable. While the first 3 games were mostly competitive, Alaska definitely had the edge over SMB. It was hard to fathom that the Finals would reach 7 games, but here we are raring to go for an epic Game

Alder Almo (Philstar.com):  I thought SMB was done entering the final 3 minutes of regulation in Game 4. But the Beermen started their Beeracle run (as cleverly coined by SMB fans) with Chris Ross anchoring the comeback. It was all SMB needed to buy JMF more time. I’ve said in our first 4×4 PBA Finals preview that if JMF recovers fast, this Finals is going to be more exciting than their seven-game classic in the same conference last season. It’s turning out to be just like what I’ve imagined.

 

2. Who’s been the biggest difference-maker for San Miguel in this comeback?

Richard: June Mar Fajardo’s return to the SMB lineup has no doubt, lifted the team’s morale, but special mention also to Arwind Santos, who has managed to overcome his shooting woes during the first four games of the championship series. Santos has also been contributing solidly on the rebounding department and blocks. And we can’t overlook Chris Ross’ contributions as well due to his game-long hustle that led to steals during the crucial juncture of SMB’s past three wins.

Enzo: I wanna say June Mar Fajardo, but he has played a grand total of just two games. That’s why I am picking someone who should be in Gilas 4.0 this year — Marcio Lassiter. Lassiter’s numbers in the last three games are miles ahead of his numbers from Games 1-3:

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%

Yes, June Mar has forced Alaska to adjust on the fly and has just wreaked havoc on both ends, but it has been Marcio delivering the body shots and knockout blows for the Beermen.

Rolly:   The people’s choice might be the Best Player of the Conference, June Mar Fajardo. However, a quicker and smaller guy has been the biggest difference-maker for SMB and his name is Chris Ross. This guy elevated his performance in the Finals. Ross has been their best overall defender in the perimeter. His deflections and steals have stymied the Aces into multiple turnovers and bad decisions. On offense, Ross has the ability to rebound and push the ball in transition. He is also speedy enough to beat the backcourt pressure that Alaska typically employs.

Alder: Chris Ross was SMB’s biggest difference-maker until JMF came along and surprised everyone starting in Game 5. His mere presence lifted the spirits of the Beermen and it wasn’t a coincidence that Arwind Santos started to get comfortable on offense with the Kraken back commanding the biggest attention on the defensive end. Fajardo also spaced out the floor for Marcio and the rest of SMB shooters to hit from outside.

 

3.  Which Alaska player should step up in Game 7?

Richard: For Alaska to even entertain thoughts of bagging the franchise’s 15th title, veterans like Cyrus Baguio and Dondon Hontiveros will have to get their offense going.

Baguio averaged 12.0 points, over 5 rebounds and 2.0 assists in the first four games of the title series, but only 2.0 points on horrible 2-of-17 shooting from the field in the last two games.

Hontiveros, on the other hand, averaged 7.7 points in the first four games, but just a measly 1.5 points on a frigid 1-of-10 shooting field goal.

So for the Aces to get a much better chance of ending the conference as champions, Baguio and Hontiveros will have to regain their shooting touch.

Enzo: Joseph Evans D. Casio. He has been the missing link for Alaska all series long. I mean, his scoring, playmaking, and shooting numbers are down compared to his first 16 games this season. Alaska will certainly need nothing short of the best from Casio. Otherwise, they’ll be picking up the painful pieces of what-could-have-been.

Rolly: The veteran shooter Dondon Hontiveros needs to lead and step up. His team is possibly panicking a little bit and their collective spirit might be wavering. Hontiveros needs to be the voice of reason and calming presence in their locker room. Of course, the “Cebuano Hotshot” cannot just rely on words of wisdom because actions speak louder than words. Therefore, Hontiveros needs to start taking open jumpers and make them. A made three here and there will absolutely increase Alaska’s chances of winning. Hontiveros is still their best shooter and he can definitely get hot in an instant.

Alder: It’s been Vic Manuel and Calvin Abueva who were consistently carrying the Aces here in the Finals. This is perfect time – since this is the only chance they’ve got – for their backcourt to step up.  They’ve been outplayed in the last 3 games with Chris Ross, Alex Cabagnot and Marcio Lassiter hitting their strides. Jvee Casio, Dondon Hontiveros and RJ Jazul need to heat up from the perimeter to make SMB think twice in playing zone.

 

4. Will it be an epic comeback? Or will it be a great escape?

Richard: San Miguel has the momentum and its confidence is very high. If Alaska fails to get the contributions needed from guys like Baguio and Hontiveros, the Beermen are set to make history Wednesday night.

Enzo: It will be an epic, historic, climactic, seismic comeback for SMB. I figured the last chance Alaska really had to wrap this series up was in Game 5, but they just couldn’t close the deal. San Miguel has all the momentum, talent, size, and motivation to pull off something that no other professional basketball team has ever done in the history of putting a leather ball in a hoop — overcome a 0-3 series deficit in a best-of-7 series to win the championship. Heck, they may even get featured in ESPN!

Rolly: All the momentum and confidence are with San Miguel Beer. The extra days in-between Games 6 and 7 will also favor the Beermen because June Mar Fajardo will have more time to rest, recover and receive treatment for his injured knee. Additionally, SMB’s starters will also benefit from the extra rest days because they have played more minutes compared to anyone on the Aces’ roster. Hence, SMB will enter the PBA history books as the first team to win 4 straight after losing the first 3 games of a 7-game series.

Alder: With momentum shifting drastically to SMB side in the past three games, it’s hard not to root for the Beermen to write history tonight. But then again, Alaska is just as proud franchise and too good to blow away this series just like that. My mind says SMB should win but my gut feel is Alaska will step up and plot a great escape plan.

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