San Miguel Beer completed an epic comeback against luckless Alaska Wednesday night in the just-concluded PBA Philippine Cup Finals.
After being down 3-0, the Beermen battled back to win 4 straight games and we were all witnesses to amazing performances from some of the stars while also being treated to surprising moments from a handful of less-heralded players.
Here are 5 whom we believe delivered beyond expectations in the championship round:
1. Chris Ross
The Finals MVP came up with his best shooting game during their historic Game 7 win. Ross was the biggest difference in all of SMB’s 4 wins. The series turned in favor of San Miguel when Ross started and played more minutes.
He was amazing on defense as he wreaked havoc against the guards of Alaska. On offense, Ross’s ability to break the press and increase the tempo allowed the Beermen to score easy buckets in transition.
To cap it all off, Ross, who is not a shooting threat, made 4 threes in the pivotal Game 7. This prompted Alaska Coach Alex Compton to say that they had no strategy against Ross who shot the ball as if he was Marcio Lassiter.
2. Vic Manuel
The “Muscle Man” was chosen Best Player of the Game for 3 straight games — all Alaska wins. Actually, Manuel has been their best player for the whole conference, so he definitely stepped up during the finals.
Manuel was nearly unstoppable near the shaded lane; almost everything he launched reached the bottom of the net. In 6 games, Manuel was making close to 62% of his shots to go along with 9 rebounds per game.
He was also their most consistent player up until Game 7 where he suffered an ankle injury that severely slowed him down. Consequently, Manual tallied his worst game of the series and to no one’s surprise, his limited production was one of the biggest reasons why Alaska lost Game 7.
3. Chris Banchero
The sophomore guard was arguably their 3rd best player aside from Vic Manuel and Calvin Abueva. A case can be made that Banchero was their #1 guard for the finals. He always played hard and was fearless at attacking the rim.
To his credit, Banchero knew that he was not a three-point threat, so he stayed within his shooting range and took high percentage shots closer to the basket. Banchero played his best game during Game 7 and he was an integral part of Alaska’s last ditch rally to catch SMB.
Unfortunately, Banchero needed more help from the others but that assistance never came.
4. Yancy de Ocampo
YDO was inserted into the starting five when June Mar Fajardo was unable to play in the finals. The older and less popular brother of Ranidel de Ocampo, barely played during the Philippine Cup elimination round (around 7 minutes per game) but he was ready to play at once.
Yancy responded by delivering 3 games of 10+ points and he averaged about 5 rebounds per contest. His best performance came in Game 2 when he garnered 13 points, 14 rebounds and 3 blocks. De Ocampo showed their coaching staff that he can be trusted to play the center position when JMF was unable to play due to injury or when he needed to rest.
5. Gabby Espinas
The former NCAA Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player played a crucial role in coming off the bench for SMB.
Espinas saw his minutes increased in the finals due to the absence of JMF. Espinas only played less than 14 minutes during the eliminations but that number got bumped to roughly 25 minutes during the finals.
He was often the first big man off the bench and his ability to play either power forward or center immensely helped Coach Austria tweak his rotation.
Furthermore, Gabby was solid in Game 4 when he finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds, both numbers were conference highs. Overall, Espinas helped SMB weather the storm when JMF was unable to play. — By Rolly Mendoza