Aces survive Texters to meet Beermen in finals
04 Aug 2010
Ranged against a team oozing with talent and firepower, Alaska was hardly given a second look to make it as far as the Finals of the PBA Fiesta Cup.
But here are the Aces, calm but confident in their second straight trip to the championship round after pulling off one of the biggest upsets in the 35-year history of Asia's first ever play-for-pay league.
The Aces jumped to an early double-digit lead and then held their ground in the end of a 90-83 stunner of top seed Talk 'N Text Tropang Texters in their sudden-death game for the remaining Finals berth of the season-ending meet.
Seeded only fourth and definitely, the heavy underdog against the top team of the eliminations, the Aces played with poise and fire throughout Game 7 at the Araneta Coliseum. And not once did they blink even at the height of a big Talk 'N Text comeback in the third period.
The sum of it all allowed them to win the best-of-seven series, 4-3, and make it to the Finals for the 25th time in the franchise's 24-year history.
Now, the Aces next face the reigning and defending champion San Miguel Beermen in the best-of-seven title series that begins Friday also at the Big Dome.
"To tell you honestly, I was not really paying attention to San Miguel because my focus was actually on this series," said coach Tim Cone, who's in his 23rd trip to the championship round, the second most by any coach after the 28 of the legendary Virgilio 'Baby' Dalupan.
The Aces are in the Finals for the second straight conference - the first team to do so since Red Bull and Purefoods in 2005-06 - after a similar trip in the last Philippine Cup when they were swept by Purefoods (now Derby Ace) in four games.
Cone is aware beating the mighty Beermen, backstopped by reigning Fiesta Cup Best Import Gabe Freeman, will be a tall order. But conquering the Tropang Texters was even tougher as the already talented squad got even better when they landed to its fold Kelly Williams and Ryan Reyes from Sta. Lucia.
"We went through the gauntlet against Ginebra. We went through the gauntlet against Talk 'N Text. I asked the guys if we can still go through another two-and-a-half weeks of this and they said 'yes'," said Cone.
Alaska has set up a sixth championship showdown with San Miguel Beer, which on Sunday clinched the first Finals berth after beating the Llamados in their own series, four games to two.
The Aces have a 3-2 advantage in their Finals' head-to-head duel with the Beermen, even though the beverage franchise won in 1999 with coach Jong Uichico, 4-2.
"We never gave up. We played with a big heart," said Cyrus Baguio, who finished with 14 points and came through with the game's biggest defensive play by blocking the attempt of Jimmy Alapag in the final 34 seconds and preserved a six-point Alaska lead.
"We don't want to go on a vacation yet," added Baguio, who himself arrived at Alaska via a trade with Barangay Ginebra for Willie Miller.
Diamon Simpson topscored for the Aces with 21 points, 14 of them coming in the first half, when Alaska led by as many as 35-20 and 47-36 at the half.
Joe Devance added 16 points and L.A.Tenorio 10, including a banked shot that thwarted Talk 'N Text's last stand and gave the Aces an 85-79 lead with 45.5 seconds left to play.
After that, Baguio came up with his defensive gem on Alapag, which the Aces then translated into two free throws at the other end courtesy of De Vance to seal it, 87-79, with 34.5 ticks to go.
Alaska led by as many as 18 points, 61-53, but Talk 'N Text went on a 17-2 run to close the gap to within 63-60 at the end of the third quarter.
The Aces, then, held off that run with a 14-5 blast, before Mac-Mac Cardona hit a triple that punctuated a counter Talk N Text assault to close in at 83-79.
"When we were leading by 18, I said: 'Can we still lose this game? And then, boom!," said Cone.
Shawn Daniels scored 19 points and grabbed 19 rebounds to pace the Tropang Texters, who still failed to get the numbers from Williams. The former Most Valuable Player was held down to only four points.
Cardona had 16 points while Ranidel de Ocampo contributed 15 points and six rebounds.
The loss definitely was a bitter pill to swallow for the Tropang Texters, who were projected to make to the championship round first after wounding up with the best record in the eliminations -- a 15-3 that included a franchise-best 13 straight wins.
It will also stretch their drought when it comes to tournaments with imports. Talk 'N Text's two championships came in the Philippine Cups in 2003 and in 2009. - RCJ, GMANews.TV
Alaska 90 - Simpson 21, De Vance 16, Baguio 14, Tenorio 10, Fonacier 10, Dela Cruz 10, Hugnatan 5, Borboran 4.
Talk 'N Text 81 - Daniels 19, Cardona 16, de Ocampo 15, Reyes 9, Alapag 9, Castro 6, Williams 4, Carey 3, Dillinger 0, Aban 0.
Quarters: 24-12, 47-36, 63-60, 90-81.