After a grueling seven-game series that made us fear for the physical well-being of our fave basketball players, the San Miguel Beermen finally overcame the Alaska Aces to win their 20th franchise championship, and their first All-Filipino/Philippine Cup crown since 2001. Inuman na!
It was one heck of a series that fittingly ended with a wild finish in Game 7. And although they were pegged as the llamados, it was no cakewalk by any means for the Beermen as they (literally!) bled to get this PBA championship. Alaska is one tough, bruising team with a championship-caliber D, a knack for coming back from huge deficits, and the mental fortitude and veteran smarts reminiscent of the San Antonio Spurs. Plus, they have a guy named Calvin Abueva, who, as we all know, deserves every bit of his "The Beast" moniker.
Ultimately though, the Aces couldn’t complete the comeback this time as Coach Leo Austria and his boys managed to battle from six points down in the final canto of Game 7 and hold on to their lead until the final buzzer, winning the pulsating final canto, 80-78.
Not that we're underestimating San Miguel, but we just had to ask: How the hell did they survive a relentless Alaska side that, at present, seems to be the true "never say die team" of the PBA (sorry, Ginebra fans!)? To answer that, we decided to do a bit more hoops-analyzin' to give you more than the usual "puso" reply (which is getting really old).
THE OFFENSIVE JUGGERNAUT THAT IS SAN MIGUEL
The Beermen were one of the best offensive teams in the league, and when they are clicking well enough to reach 80 points in a game, it’s difficult to think the other team could win.
Just ask Coach Chot Reyes:
Of their 15 wins in the Philippine Cup before Game 7, 13 came with the Beermen scoring 80 points or more. In the conference, the Beermen ranked third in scoring behind Talk N’ Text (95.2 ppg) and Rain or Shine (90.8 ppg) with an 88.6 ppg average.
They certainly have the weapons to score, and Talk N’ Text found that out the hard way. During their semifinal series, Chris Lutz (10.6 ppg 4.5 apg), Marcio Lassiter (11.2 ppg), and Alex Cabagnot (14.7 ppg) averaged in double figures, and they were not even the top scorers. June Mar Fajardo (21.0 ppg, 11.7 rpg, 1.5 bpg) was an unstoppable force down low while Arwind Santos (16.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg) has almost perfected that off-timed hanging perimeter jumper and added the three-pointer to his arsenal.
Even Rico "Mambo" Maierhofer had his share of offensive highlights in the semis:
Video via San Miguel Beermen PBA
While getting most or all of them to click in one game seemed hard to do especially against a defensive-minded team like the Aces, SMB's main guns still managed to give significant contributions with five of them averaging in double- or near-double-figures in the Finals:
- Arwind Santos: 18.29 ppg
- June Mar Fajardo: 14.57 ppg
- Chris Lutz: 10.86 ppg
- Marcio Lassiter: 9.71 ppg
- Alex Cabagnot: 9.57 ppg
Coaches will say “defense wins championships” but, at the end of the day, it's all about which team scores more.
THEY PLAYED TO THEIR STRENGTHS
Coming from a series against arguably the meanest, roughest team in the league that is the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, Alaska proved they can be as physical as the baddest of them all. They showed it in Game 2 of the Finals, where they left Arwind Santos a bloody mess and all throughout the series where they tussled and wrestled their way to every possession.
Video via PBH
The Beermen, though, weren’t afraid to bang bodies with the Aces. They had the size advantage with big fella Fajardo, the biceps of Doug Kramer, and the hara-kiri-type play of David Semerad to trade blows with the wrecking ball that is Abueva, the muscles of Vic Manuel, and the six hard fouls of Sam Eman. Then there's Eric Menk, who's as muscled as a pit-bull on steroids.
Clearly, the Beermen’s biggest advantage in the series was the presence of Fajardo inside. In order to open up the lanes for him, San Miguel threw up a whopping 180 threes (converting 51) in the first six games of the series against Alaska’s 116. Once Alaska paid attention to the shooters, Fajardo was able to operate inside; whether it be through a nifty post move or by cleaning up the glass.
Alaska prides itself with defense, and while other teams may have crumbled with the way they bullied their way on the floor, the Beermen stood tall against them. The rebounding stats of individual games will not always show it: The Aces won Game 1 despite giving up 59 rebounds (18 offensive) to their 49 (12 offensive). The Beermen won Game Six despite giving up 49 boards (19 offensive) against 40 of their own (nine offensive). Still, it was the Beermen who claimed the rebounding battle, 355 to 293, overall. Sakuragi approves!
GIF via escupo-mis-realidades
THE "HUGOT" FACTOR OF COACH LEO
It was a chess match for both coaches throughout the series, as both tried to figure out ways to correct their problems and get the advantage. The Aces struggled with slow starts, while the Beermen weren’t able to sustain their big leads. While Coach Alex Compton constantly tinkered with his starting lineup, Coach Leo opted to adjust his lineups during the games.
Coach Austria used Ronald Pascual in Game 1 off the bench, and the rookie responded with 10 points in just 17 minutes of play. He unleashed David Semerad in Game 2, who helped them with 10 points, four boards, and boundless energy that helped them to the win.
In Game 4, he stuck with the struggling Alex Cabagnot and was rewarded with 22 points from the veteran guard, who led the team in scoring and helped them split the series at two wins apiece. He stuck with another struggling guard in Marcio Lasssiter during the next game and the shooter finally made his mark, becoming the third scorer they needed to go up in the series, 3-2.
In Game 7, Coach Leo inserted rookies Jeric Fortuna and Ronald Pascual in the crucial moments of the game. They didn’t do much in three total minutes of action but Coach Leo’s unorthodox lineups during this Finals might have thrown off Coach Alex a bit in formulating a game plan against the Beermen.
Only Coach Leo knows.
THE RISE OF DAVID SEMERAD
His twin brother Anthony, who people argue is the better basketball player between the two, plays for Globalport Batang Pier. Their disparity in skills was evident in the eliminations as Anthony averaged 8.6 ppg in 22.4 minutes per game while David only managed a measly 1.1 ppg in 6.3 minutes per game.
Video via PBA ATIN 3
Despite this, David was able to rise to the occasion when Coach Leo called for his services in the Finals. His pesky defense and hustle play resulted in irritated Alaska players (and fans!) and extra possessions for the Beermen. His contributions don’t show up in the stat sheets (you’d have better luck finding it in YouTube), but he did manage to increase his playing time to 9.4 minutes per game in the series. Not bad for a rookie competing for minutes against the likes of Santos, Kramer, a project in Justin Chua, and a veteran forward in Bitoy Omolon.
So, “lesser twin” who?
THE KRAKEN, UNLEASHED!
We all know June Mar Fajardo has the potential to be the best pure Filipino big man ever. Whenever he gets the ball in the post, there’s virtually nothing a single defender can do one-on-one. When he’s dishing out moves—he now has a baseline spin, a Euro-step and a step-back fadeaway jumper like he’s Dirk freakin' Nowitzki—how else can you stop him?!
The Kraken was unleashed in Game 7 with 21 points and 25 rebounds, becoming the first local player to finish with a 20-20 in a Finals game, and also the first Filipino to grab 25 rebounds at the big stage. This came following a disappointing Game 6 performance where he “only” managed nine points and 11 boards.
Abueva was equally amazing throughout the series, and his encore could have earned him Finals MVP honors if they won the game. Abueva finished with 23 points and 15 rebounds, going wild in the second half to help the Aces surge ahead with a six-point lead in the fourth after falling behind by as much as 23 points. Alas, it was not enough, with Fajardo’s performance and a backbreaking three from the guy who would be the Finals MVP.
Speaking of whom...
ARWIND SANTOS: FINALS MVP AND THE PLAYER JOSH SMITH WANTS TO BE
We have every reason to believe that Arwind Santos is the player Josh Smith wants to be. Both are stat-stuffing monsters with the talent to register double-doubles every night. Both are also trigger-happy shooters from the three-point area, which is not the best part of their games.
True to form, Santos threw up a whopping 65 attempts from the rainbow arc in the Finals. The Beermen's fans would've asked for his head if he didn't make 25 of them (for an impressive 38.4-percent clip), including what was virtually the game winner in Game 7. He hit the threes that mattered, and provided the defense and rebounding as well. Josh Smith wouldn’t have been waived by the Detroit Pistons if he hit threes at the right time like Arwind did (at least in the Finals).
For all the flak Santos has gotten after he won the 2012-2013 season MVP award, he continued to play his game but adjusted to complement Fajardo’s inside presence. His numbers in Game 7 (22 points, 12 rebounds, three steals, four blocks) proved to be the turning point that won him the Finals MVP award despite Fajardo’s individual brilliance. Santos showed a clutch gene that he seemed to have lacked even after he won his MVP trophy.
But consider what would've happened had he missed that final three-point attempt: We probably would be writing a whole article about Arwind's "choker" gene and how Alaska benefited from it. Or how Santos is the Philippines’ Josh Smith.
LADY LUCK SMILED ON THEM IN GAME 7 (AND ALASKA'S MISSED OPPORTUNITIES)
If you’ve watched Alaska this year and throughout the series, you’d know better than to switch channels when they’re down big at any point in a game. They won Game 1 after being down by as much as 22 and came back from 18 points down in the third quarter of Game 3 to snatch the win away from the Beermen.
Video via PBA RECAP
The Aces also recovered from an early 12-point deficit in Game 6 to force the rubber match. In Game 7, the Aces were again down big at the half with the Beermen leading by 21. Like in all three of their wins in the series, they clawed their way back and even took a six-point lead with just under five minutes to go in the ballgame. It was looking like the signature Alaska comeback.