Whose balloons will fall?
Balloons are symbolic of happy occasions like birthdays and achievements. For the Alaska Aces, their balloons have been up in the arena rafters for two straight games ever since they posted a commanding 3-0 lead in the title series of the Smart Bro PBA Philippine Cup.
History and momentum seemed to favor the multititled franchise. No team in league history had risen from the deathbed of a three-game deficit. And San Miguel Beer did not have in its vaunted big man June Mar Fajardo in the lineup because of a leg entanglement in the Rain or Shine semifinal series that caused a knee swelling.
San Miguel displayed spunk and grit in Games 1 to 3 but could not put the points on the board in the final quarter. The Beermen finally got to score more than the Aces in Game 4 (29-21) and blanked them during a crucial stretch in the payoff period. If not for Cyrus Baguio’s off-balanced gutsy trey, the Beermen would have won without overtime by three points. The Beermen outscored Alaska in the overtime and won Game 4.
Then in Game 5, the Beermen had their big man back as well as their confidence. Survival is a powerful motivation in life and in sports and San Miguel was clearly buoyed by the Game 4 win. Their energy was different and was most apparent in Arwind Santos, who continued to dominate the boards but added 22 points in an offensive breakout game in the finals.
In another overtime game, the Beermen had more fire than the Aces who seemed to be hounded by the missed opportunities to close out the series via the sweep or with a win in Game 5. The mind plays games when crises arise and the Aces have seen time and chances dissolve in the last two games.
San Miguel is now confident with a lineup that has Fajardo back, even with limited stretches on the floor. An occasional basket and his intimidating presence are enough to give the Beermen chances to extend the series to the max and to defend the crown.
Leo Austria has also found points, muscle and relief in the once rarely used Gabby Espinas. The absence of Fajardo forced the team to stretch its lineup and any available big man got a call slip. Aside from Espinas, Jay-R Reyes and Yancy De Ocampo have gotten minutes to fill in the slot.
So will Alaska’s balloons finally fall on Friday or with San Miguel’s join them in a winner-take-all finale at MOA on Sunday? This has been a series defined by energy and the team that has air in their balloons on Friday or Sunday should win it all.
CALOY STILL HAD IT. About two years ago, son Chito wheeled in his father “The Big Difference” Carlos Loyzaga into MOA Arena. They were going to spend an afternoon watching a Shakey’s V-League championship.
Chito brought his dad’s wheelchair to a corner and left him for a while to chat with some Sports Vision friends. As the warm-ups of the teams proceeded, some errant spikes were flying in different directions. Before you knew it, Caloy had already caught one and then a few more balls and playfully tossed them back to the players. Once a baller, always an alert one, no doubt.
The passing of this great Filipino player who brought so much honor to the country saddens us even if many of us never saw him play. But legends are around because of the stories of those who watched him or played against him. And there will be many stories as we honor him for all time.
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