Five most inspiring comebacks in PBA Finals history

As the San Miguel Beermen reserved a special page in the Philippine basketball history for their epic comeback, let’s look back on PBA championship series that made hoop fans believe in miracles. 

1. San Miguel Beermen v Alaska Aces (2016)

It’s a Beer-acle for the ages. As former MVP Arwind Santos would put it, their names will be remembered in Philippine basketball even when they are long gone.

After finishing 1st in the eliminations, they were considered favorites for the Philippine Cup. Everything was going well for the Beermen before they encountered a major setback after prized big man June Mar Fajardo injured his knee in the semis. 

Fajardo’s absence vividly left a void in San Miguel’s offense and defense, as the Aces managed to snatch the 1st 3 games in a thrilling way. Down 0-3, the chances for Beermen to cop the crown were down to almost nil. 

They needed a miracle and so they pulled off one — one miracle that has never been done in the world of basketball.

Chris Ross was a revelation for the comeback boys. The ‘Man of Steal’ sizzled when everyone thought that Alaska was a lock for the title. Ross, alongside a clutch Santos and Cabagnot, joined forces to push the series in a decider. With Fajardo returning in Game 5, the Beermen shifted the momentum in their side.

As the victory balloons traveled from the Philsports Arena to the Smart Araneta Coliseum and to the MOA Arena, San Miguel captured their 22nd championship trophy in an emotional and grander style.  

Read: Beer-acle: San Miguel completes epic comeback

2. Shell Rimula X v Ginebra San Miguel (1991)

Despite holding a comfortable 3-1 advantage in the 1991 PBA First Conference Finals, Shell Rimula X becomes the first team in the league to squander a lead that big in a best-of-7 affair.

It was a classic match-up to remember, as Shell’s duo of Benjie Paras and Ronnie Magsanoc battled against Ginebra’s main man Robert Jaworski, with the Rimula X gaining the upperhand early in the series after winning Games 1, 2 and 4.

Shell failed to wrap up the incident-marred series in Game 5 after Ginebra unleashed their never-say-die attitude behind Jervis Cole and Jaworski. The crowd favorites went on to extend the finale to a do-or-die battle.

In a jampacked Game 7, Shell’s nightmare materialized as Rudy Distrito’s off-balanced shot went in. With only 1 second remaining, Ronnie Magsanoc’s 3-point attempt to salvage the championship was foiled by Cole.

Curiously, Leo Austria was part of the Shell squad. Twenty-five years later, who would have thought that Austria will redeem himself as the mentor who steered the most epic comeback in Philippine basketball history. 

3. Alaska Aces v Purefoods Tender Juicy Hotdogs (2002)

Alaska raced to a 2-0 lead but Purefoods won 4 of the last 5 games to steal the 2002 Governors’ Cup. 

After dispatching FedEx and San Miguel in earlier playoff series, the 4th-seeded Aces managed to take the 1st 2 victories in pulsating fashion.

However, it did not break the Tender Juicy Hotdogs’ determination, leaning on import Derrick Brown to clinch their 1st championship in 5 years. 

Local superstars Alvin Patrimonio and Ronnie Magsanoc paved the way in clinching Game 7 for Purefoods as the then Tim Cone-mentored Alaska failed to stop the Hotdogs’ spirited rally in the 4th quarter.

Read: Bizarre Game 7 gamble fails to pay off for Compton

4. Purefoods Hotdogs v Alaska Air Force

The Purefoods franchise etched their team in PBA history in 1990 after overcoming a 0-2 deficit by winning the last 3 games against Alaska to win the Third Conference title.

Although it was only a best-of-5 affair, the 2 teams figured in a highly-contested ballgame with Purefoods managing to escape with the victory.

The Maestro Baby Dalupan steered the Hotdogs to the franchise’s 1st-ever PBA title after a series of bridesmaid finishes since joining the league in 1988. Purefoods beat Alaska, which was then coached by a young Cone. 

5. Brgy. Ginebra Kings v FedEx Express

Nevermind if Ginebra has not won a championship in 8 years, the year they last hoisted it was nothing short of big moments.

After impressively sweeping their assignments in the quarters and semis, the Gin Kings found themselves in an unfamiliar territory with a 3-2 disadvantage against FedEx Express in the 2008 Governors’ Cup.

Refusing to back down, Ginebra brought back their never-say-die form, with Ronald Tubid and Eric Menk spearheading them to back-to-back victories for their 8th championship. 

Almost 23,000 people witnessed the coronation moment for the Gin Kings at the Araneta Coliseum, as they walloped the Express by 13 points in Game 7.

Tubid and Menk shared Finals MVP honors for the crowd favorite squad while Ginebra’s import Chris Alexander collected the Best Import award. — By Jason Mercene and Richard Dy

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