It was an impossible mountain to climb from the very beginning. Their savior, Jvee Casio, who two days ago was a few seconds from a game changing layup that would have swung the momentum to Alaska’s side, was missing in action. Their inside enforcers, Gab Espinas and Sonny Thoss, were missing in action as well due to a myriad of injury concerns. Three core pieces missing from the rotation.

Yet, through it all Alaska found a way to make a game out of this. Heading into this series, I thought Alaska had no chance at winning this series. Sure, they can maybe steal one game (maybe with some deadly shooting) but I never thought they had a real chance at it. Evidence pointed to a massacre.

And yet they won Game 1 despite a +27 advantage on the 3-point battle by Rain or Shine (Alaska shot just 3 of 21, Rain or shint shot 12 of 29). They lost Game 2 in an embarrassing fashion and I said “well here it comes”. And yet again, they won Game 3 (by 10 points, I might add). They came so close to winning Game 4 (that momentum changing,wide open, shoulda been a layup by Casio, that wide open, albeit rushed, corner three by Casio and a semi-wide open jumper from the line).

This is definitely a heartbreaking loss for Alaska. Despite Dondon’s heroic efforts through the last two games (the dude made 12 of his 19 attempts in Game 4 and Game 5 combined) and despite the awakening of Manuel as maybe a core piece for the Aces, Alaska still lost this series to the better team. It was expected and yet unexpected.

It was expected (by most) that Alaska will lose this game.

It was unexpected that Alaska would actually push Rain or Shine to the very brink of elimination. How did they do it? Let’s take a review of Game 5 (and the series, in general).

Game 5

Team

Pace RTG eFG TOV% ORB% FTR

ALA

87.4 111.0 46.4% 13.9% 38.8% 24.1%

ROS

87.4 107.6 50.0% 8.3% 23.9% 20.5%

Series

Team

Pace RTG eFG TOV% ORB% FTR

ALA

89.6 110.0 47.6% 10.4% 34.3% 23.9%

ROS

89.6 110.6 50.6% 13.9% 32.1% 26.8%

Aces

Game 5 Individual Offensive Ratings

Aces

Series Individual Offensive Ratings

This game was played at Alaska’s preferred pace, with just 87.4 possessions per 48 minutes. And despite popular belief, Alaska didn’t win games this series because of their defense. Alaska nearly won this series (and this game) because they took care of the ball (8.3 percent in this game, 10.4 percent this series). Those are really low turnover rates (i.e. great). And because Rain or Shine couldn’t generate easy looks on the break (through steals), they couldn’t reach for Alaska’s proverbial jugular. Alaska took the cuts and the bruises and the blows, but Rain or Shine couldn’t deliver that coup de grace. Alaska was still fighting until the end (they came back from a double digit deficit, if I’m not mistaken). Even that final Alaska heave from Walker was not a team that was giving up. I’m proud to say I followed this Alaska team and I’m proud to have watched this Alaska team for five games this series.

Game Notes and Other Observations

1. Dondon just went H-A-M and carried this team. He played like the Dondon of yore — the Cebu Gems, San Miguel Beermen Hontiveros. For the series, Dondon actually made 4.3 3-pointers per 36 (47.2 percent shooting). Casio and Hontiveros are the only legitimate 3-point threats for Alaska. I’d venture a guess that Alaska’s offense skyrocketed when Casio and Hontiveros shared the floor (DAMN YOU FIBA LIVE STATS!). Without Casio, Dondon was left as the only player who could pull players out to the 3-point line or make Rain or Shine pay when they focus on the inside shots generated from the triangle. Dondon is 37 and shooters will age better than most role players. But Alaska has to be asking itself what their floor spacing will look like when Dondon retires.

2. Manuel was just great this game (and series). He took a larger role and played extremely well. I think, he is everything Abueva is supposed to be. Crafty and quick in the pinch post, strong and sturdy in the middle, monster rebounder and just makes 50/50 balls 80/20 balls. I think this series (and conference long production) has cemented Manuel’s place in Alaska’s hierarchy.

Aces

Manuel was big for the Aces this series (Photo Credit: Paolo Papa, Sports 5)

3. Alaska and Coach Alex has to fix that rotation problem and overall, the defensive identity of this team. Rotations were just turrible and Rain or Shine demolished this scheme. For the series, Rain or Shine scored at the rate at which the famous 7SOL Suns scored. It was an embarrassing display of miscommunication and misdiagnosis of cuts and rotations. Every minute detail should be examined and re-evaluated — how they attack the post, how they defend cutters, close outs, rebounding positions, shooting tendencies they’d like to force, etc… It’s the one single thing keeping this Alaska team from becoming a powerhouse. Add length, add defensively tenacious players and/or change the system. I don’t really know how and which one Alaska will prioritize but they have to do something about it.

4. Out of all the teams that run a variation of the triangle (San Mig Coffee, Alaska, Ginebra), I’m the biggest fan of Alaska’s variation. San Mig Coffee relies on a lot of handoffs and back sets that don’t necessarily generate good shots but it does get them a lot of shots near the rim (which helps their defense). Ginebra likes to re-set their triangle and just go back to their usual high-low, ball screen heavy sets (probably the nature of a team still adapting to a complex system). Alaska’s pinch post heavy and Alex Compton’s inclusion of some flare screens and hammer sets makes for a better shot distribution.

I don’t know what Alaska plans to do but I’m going to closely follow this team moving forward. Whether I’m a fan or not is open for discussion. For now, Alaska fans should be proud of what their team accomplished this conference.