A special Game 7

Junemar Fajardo's return helped San Miguel a lot in coming back from the grave. PBA (file photo)
By Ivan Saldajeno

SOME San Miguel fans may have already switched channels on the night of Jan. 24 when Alaska erected an 11-point cushion late in regulation of Game 4 of the PBA Philippine Cup Finals with the latter leading the series, 3-0.

Fast forward to today. The Beermen are now chasing history.

San Miguel is now on an inside track of overturning a 0-3 deficit and turn it to its third PBA title in four conferences, all against the same Alaska team.

So how did the Beermen overcome the odds? That and more in this Game 7 lookahead.

Chasing (and stopping) history

San Miguel became the first team in PBA history to erase a 0-3 deficit and force a Game 7 with a blowout Game 6 against Alaska on Friday night, which was a far cry from its first two wins of the series, where the team needed extra time in both matches.

Equivalently, Alaska became the first team to have a 3-0 lead yet conceded the next three games.

A win by the Beermen on Wednesday will make them the first team not just in the PBA but in all of club basketball worldwide to complete the seemingly impossible comeback (in turn, it will make the Aces the first team to lose a best-of-seven basketball playoff series despite leading, 3-0, entering Game 4).

Being the only league right now that adopts a best-of-seven playoff series format (the top tier volleyball league, the PSL, only has a three-game championship series, while the top tier football league, the UFL, adopts the typical double round robin season format with no playoffs for the league and a one-game championship game for the cup; the PFF-Smart Club Championship also only has a knockout final), San Miguel could even be the first team in Philippine sports history to win a finals series despite the early 0-3 hole.

However, as what Aces coach Alex Compton said after Game 6, the pressure could actually be on the Beermen, and I may agree on it.

With a historical event about to be written, all eyes are now on San Miguel, even the international media, which last saw a complete 0-3 comeback 12 years ago in the MLB semifinal, formally called the American League Championship Series, clash between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, and with the hype on the team, San Miguel may bear some extra burden in winning this one.

On the other hand, I think the pressure was on Alaska during Game 4 since it was gunning the sweep.

With the sweep bid over, the pressure may have been gone from the Aces come Game 5, but now that the finals have gone the full length, they are now on a different kind of pressure of evading infamy.

The Junemar Effect

If there is one reason why San Miguel put up the epic comeback, it is Junemar Fajardo.

Fajardo showed up in Game 4 although only in street clothes to receive his Best Player of the Conference trophy, but his mere presence was already enough for the Beermen to play inspired basketball late in the contest and force the comeback win.

But eventually, Fajardo wanted more than just his mere presence.

Fajardo, according to Coach Leo Austria, demanded for him to suit up for Game 5 at the risk of further hurting his left knee injury.

Austria did not just give Fajardo his battle gear back but even warmed up and eventually got some playing time off the bench in Game 5.

While he did not have the ball for much of the overtime period, his presence led to open teammates, and Marcio Lassiter converted the must-make shots to draw San Miguel closer to Alaska in the series.

Fajardo even had an improved performance in Game 6 just two nights after, grabbing more rebounds and even blocking one shot in the blowout win that forced Game 7.

How Fajardo changed the complexion of the series per se?

From a mere 82 ppg in the first three game where Fajardo was listed an NWT (not with team), the Beermen averaged 98.7 ppg in the next three, with two games going 100 or more.

The knockout match was initially scheduled for Sunday, but the unavailability of a big arena forced the "rescheduling" to Wednesday night at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Overlooking Vic

In my preview post, I expected Calvin Abueva to star in the series for Alaska.

It turned out, however, Vic Manuel is running the show.

Manuel averaged 20.8 points, nine rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.8 block and 0.5 steal (1.5 during the first two games) a game in the series, giving him a strong case for the Finals MVP award should Alaska avert the collapse.

Manuel was actually a cinch for the Finals MVP plum as early as Game 4 only that San Miguel fought back and eventually forced the decider.

Who's the real "we not me"?

On the other hand, San Miguel had different heroes in each of the first six games.

Alex Cabagnot starred in Games 1 and 2 with Yancy De Ocampo turning back Father Time with a season-high performance in the latter.

Also getting "retro" performances were Jay-R Reyes and Ronald Tubid in Game 3.

Lassiter then finally exploded in Games 4 and 6, tallying 26 in each of those games. Arwind Santos led the way in the match between them.

Adding to that, save for Game 1, Alaska had more turnovers than assists in each of the remaining five games of the series.

On the average, Alaska dished out 16.1 dimes a contest, while San Miguel had 15.8.

However, the Aces committed 19.8 errors a match, while San Miguel committed only 19 a game.

Going a bit advanced, San Miguel still had a better assist-to-turnover ratio than Alaska, although both are less than one, proving that the series is hard-fought but kinda sloppy.

For the Aces to live up to their "we not me" tag, they may need to control the ball better through more proper distribution and less blunders especially that they don't want to be at the wrong side of history.

What to watch out?

The scheduling of Game 7 five nights after Game 6 may actually favor Fajardo in terms of his health.

The 6-10 beanpole got enough rest for him to become the full-time "Kraken" again.

But take note that Alaska still beat San Miguel this conference despite Fajardo's presence, so I expect that both teams looked back at that elimination round game as well as the finals series, especially the last two.

To close out this one, I expect a blockbuster war for Wednesday night.

[Editor's Note: The opinions of the writer do not necessarily reflect those of Dugout Philippines.]

Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno