Win number three for the Alaska Aces was almost exactly the same story as their last game against the San Mig Coffee Mixers. A James Yap-less SMC actually led by 14 points at the half, 48-34. One reason that allowed SMC to pull away was their import, Denzel Bowles, who was dominating Alaska’s Robert Dozier. However, the Alaska locals took it upon themselves to close the scoring gap as Cyrus Baguio, Sonny Thoss and JVee Casio worked together to close the scoring gap to only four points at the end of the third, 64-60.
In the final quarter, Calvin Abueva scored 12 out of his 14 points – including two dagger three pointers that allowed Alaska to take the lead. The game was pretty much back and forth until Dozier hit a trey with a little more than two minutes to go. A crucial turnover from Devance sealed the deal for the Aces as Dozier scored another basket, leading to an Alaska win at 83-78.
It was the perfect time for the Alaska Aces to face off against the San Mig Coffee Mixers. They had some trouble figuring out how to outplay their former coach’s new team, coming so close to winning several times but could never quite come out victorious. Coming into the semis, the Aces already had nine chances to figure out what they need to do. Originally, I was disheartened when I found out that Alaska would be facing up against SMC in the semi-finals because it seemed impossible for them to win three out of five games. I was even more worried when the Coffee Mixers took the first win of the series.
However, on their 10th attempt against the Tim Cone-led SMC, they finally got it right – and they were unstoppable ever since. The Aces apparently only needed one breakthrough win in order to build their confidence. None of the games in this series were easy wins – the last two games were difficult, come-from-behind wins for the Aces. Alaska ultimately won three straight games, eliminating SMC and taking the first finals spot.
Review of the Keys to the Series
1. Get rid of the “we are going up against our former coach” mentality. Once the Aces got their first win against SMC, there was no turning back. Their confidence was obviously rock solid entering into the final three games as they refused to get disheartened even with the Coffee Mixers leading by double digits.
2. Shut down Bowles. Denzel Bowles is SMC’s go-to guy, so it was crucial for the Aces to keep him under control. In their first win against SMC, they succeeded in doing so by limiting Bowles to only eight points in the whole game. He was able to perform better in the third and fourth games, even coming up with a monster 23 points and 22 rebounds in their last meeting. Despite an excellent performance from Bowles, his efforts weren’t enough to deter the very determined Alaska Aces.
3. All about execution. The Aces outperformed the Coffee Mixers defensively in this series. In the last game, Alaska allowed SMC to shoot only 37.5% while they were able to put up 40.3%. Despite an excellent game from Bowles, the SMC import’s efforts weren’t enough to overcome the Aces’ clutch performance. Even if Robert Dozier was unable to score much, Cyrus Baguio, JVee Casio and Calvin Abueva took it upon themselves to make up for their import’s mediocre performance.
Calvin Abueva, no doubt about it. When SMC would pull away and widen the scoring gap, he would take on the task of bringing his team back to life. The Beast would single-handedly take risky shots in the face of SMC veterans. Though a lot of people call foul on his on-court actions, there’s no denying that this rookie is one of the more impressive players in the league today. As a matter of fact, he has a PER (player efficiency rating) of 14.34, in par with veterans such as Joe Devance and Marc Pingris.
The Alaska Aces will be facing fan-favorite Barangay Ginebra in the finals. Ginebra has yet to win against the Aces in this conference, but that isn’t saying much since the Aces lost nine times to SMC before getting to win three straight against them. We can definitely expect an exciting game from these teams that never seem to give up. As long as Alaska can keep up their excellent defense and not allow themselves to get overwhelmed by Ginebra’s monster crowd, then I definitely see them winning this conference.