Don’t blink in Game 3
If you think Game 2 of the PBA Governors Cup best-of-seven Finals at the Big Dome last Friday was a thriller, expect Game 3 to go up several notches in the level of excitement as Magnolia looks to open a 3-0 lead over Alaska at the Ynares Center in Antipolo tonight.
While the Aces are far from finished, they’re teetering on the brink. Unless they stem the tide tonight, Magnolia might just sweep. That means it’s a virtual must-win for Alaska in Game 3. The series could’ve easily been tied, 1-all, as the Aces led 80 percent of the way in Game 2. Like a thief in the night, Magnolia stole it from Alaska down the stretch. The Hotshots led only for 4:54 minutes but the timing couldn’t have been better for coach Chito Victolero.
Only two Aces scored in the fourth period last Friday – Mike Harris with four points and Chris Banchero with two. For 12 minutes, all Alaska could score was six points. In the last 4:55, the Aces were blanked as Magnolia ignited a 7-0 closing bomb that settled the issue, 77-71. During that silent stretch, Alaska missed nine shots in a row, including four from beyond the arc and had two turnovers. In the quarter, Alaska committed seven miscues and went 2-of-18 from the field, flubbing seven triples. One of the missed treys came from Abel Galliguez who saw action only in the last period.
Victolero tightened the screws in the final 12 minutes and the Aces blinked. It’s no surprise that Magnolia is the league’s No. 1 defensive team. Before the Finals, the Hotshots gave up an average of 94 points. In the Finals, they’re outdoing themselves as Alaska was held to 84 in Game 1 and 71 in Game 2. In his playbook, Victolero has a matchup ready to confront any Alaska player. Rafi Reavis is Harris’ primary defender but when the former NBA guard from Rice University tries to grind it out at the post, Romeo Travis quickly slips in to double. The awesome length of both Reavis and Travis makes it difficult for Harris not just to split the double but to find a clear path to pass.
Victolero’s small lineup is a defensive tenderizer, softening up the opposition for the kill. Justin Melton, Jio Jalalon and Mark Barroca are feisty, pesky and absolutely irritating when it comes to putting pressure on the man with the ball. They pounce on the handler, trap and force either an outright turnover or a bad pass. Paul Lee and P. J. Simon are others whom Victolero rotates in the backcourt.
Alaska coach Alex Compton relies heavily on his guards for offense and that’s why if Banchero, Simon Enciso, Jvee Casio, Ping Exciminiano and Jeron Teng are bottled up, the Aces machine sputters. With Vic Manuel not 100 percent, Harris has to do a lot more than usual. The problem is neither Noy Baclao nor Sonny Thoss can offer much support to ease the pressure off Harris.
An adjustment that Compton might consider is moving Harris to the three spot. That would dislodge Reavis from the matchup and open a lot of space if Magnolia doubles Harris in the perimeter. It could create backdoor opportunities for Baclao or Thoss. Carl Bryan Cruz could step in as a stretch four. Clearly, Compton has to explore other offensive options if his guards are closely monitored. Magnolia’s defense is anchored on its backcourt so Alaska might want to shift its focus of attack to the frontline.
Because Magnolia and Alaska like to press, turnovers will run high every game. That’s par for the course. The key is the timing of the miscues. When the game’s on the line, you can’t afford to throw away possessions. That’s where experience and poise come in. Eight Hotshots have played on at least one championship squad with Reavis, 41, the most seasoned, winning 10 titles in 16 Finals. In contrast, only two Aces have played on title teams with Thoss showing three championships and Baclao one.
In PBA Finals history, the team that goes on top 2-0 ends up winning the crown with an 84 percent probability. The Hotshots are now only two wins away of delivering a first championship to Victolero. But Alaska’s a proud franchise with a championship tradition. The Aces won’t roll over and die, that’s for sure. The series is far from over and in Compton’s mind, you clinch the title with four wins, not two. Alaska hasn’t won a title in the last 15 conferences and Magnolia, in the last 11. They’re both hungry for victory. Compton is in his fifth Finals and Victolero, in his second. One of them will win his first PBA title when this is over.
Game 2 was a dogfight, a low-scoring, drag-out battle that had fans up on their feet repeatedly in the course of the exciting contest. Game 3 will be more fiercely fought, more intense and more physical. Alaska will be battling for survival while Magnolia will try to hammer in the third of four nails to seal the Aces’ coffin.