Petron vs. San Mig: Down to one game

Arwind Santos and Elijah Millsap helped bottle up Marqus Blakely in Game 6. (Nuki Sabio/PBA Images)

Prior to the PBA 2013 Governors’ Cup title series between the Petron Blaze Boosters and the San Mig Coffee Mixers, almost everyone I spoke with, including some diehard San Mig fans, predicted a Petron victory. One San Mig fan even told me that his team would be lucky to win a game or two but that the overall Petron superiority would surely emerge and return the team to its former glory.

When the series started, though, it was clear that San Mig, a many-time champion itself with veteran players who had battled in the finals before, would not just lie down and accept what many thought was the writing on the wall. Game 1, a sixteen-point Petron victory, was by no means a blowout. It took an amazing fourth quarter run by Petron to pull away, but as the first three quarters and change indicated, this would be a tougher series than some earlier envisioned. Petron import Elijah Millsap finished with a triple-double.

San Mig fans who earlier wavered in their belief returned to the fold of the faithful when their team squeaked out a Game 2 victory, 100-93. Suddenly, Petron was not invincible and San Mig proved that, with the right amount of energy and resolve, it could beat the Boosters. SMC import Marqus Blakely had 26 points, 16 rebounds and 6 assists. Unfortunately, the high hopes of San Mig fans were short-lived as Petron dominated Game 3 from start to finish, thoroughly outclassing the Coffee Mixers, who were seemingly present only physically but not mentally in the first half, as Petron led by twenty-five at the half and never looked back, winning by twenty-two 90-88. Millsap and rookie JuneMar Fajardo were dominant for Petron. I had the privilege to do play-by-play for the TV coverage of this game, together with Dominic Uy, with Rizza Diaz at courtside, and I recall we were all thoroughly disappointed with how the game played out.

Game 4 was a strange one, with a reversal of roles from Game 3 happening in the first half, as San Mig started strong and Petron was flat, enabling the Mixers to lead by twenty-three at the half. However, unlike Game 3, the team trailing halfway fought back like crazy in the third quarter, with Millsap at the forefront, as Petron cut the lead to just four at the end of the quarter. The fourth was nip and tuck, but Petron faltered, and San Mig players Mark Barroca and Marc Pingris kept their team afloat, eking out a two-point win, 88-86. They were keeping in step with the Blazers.

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Prior to Game 5, fans talked about Fajardo’s awesome numbers in Game 4 that went for naught. The giant had 26 rebounds on top of 20 points, but despite the effort, his team fell just short. The question for San Mig fans was whether their team could withstand another huge performance like that and grab the series lead, something that seemed impossible at the start. The atmosphere I sensed over the Petron faithful was that some doubt had crept in, but confidence still prevailed, that their team could reassert itself and take over. Again, the game was close, tied at the half, and San Mig taking a slim lead into the fourth quarter. Then it started raining – raining shot after shot, three after three, for San Mig, led by Barroca, much like the fourth quarter Petron had in Game 1, enabling the Mixers to pull away and take the series lead, 3-2, winning 114-103. It did not matter that Millsap (37 points, 14 rebounds) and Fajardo (23 and 16) had awesome numbers again for Petron. Unexpectedly, San Mig was poised to clinch in Game 6.

James Yap came up big for San Mig in Game 6 but it wasn't enough. (Nuki Sabio/PBA Images)

Balloons hanging in the rafters and a reservation for a possible victory party supposedly already made, San Mig came out tight in Game 6 and trailed at the end of each of the first three quarters. While Petron was in control, the game was highly physical and the referees were calling fouls at an alarming rate. San Mig’s James Yap, a marked man throughout the series, was shooting well but absorbing all sorts of blows to different parts of his body. His partner, PJ Simon, was not having a good game after three quarters. San Mig, though, found some energy in the fourth as it gamely battled back, possession by possession, a stop on the other end, a basket ensuing, as Joe Devance found his range from beyond the arc and Simon went berserk from everywhere. San Mig finally grabbed the lead a couple of times, as Simon traded baskets with Millsap, but the impressive run of San Mig ended too early, as Petron regained control up to the final buzzer. Three games apiece, balloons remaining up there, and a scramble for Game 7 tickets quickly followed.

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What have we noticed after six games? It’s all a hodgepodge in my mind, but I’ll rattle off my thoughts. First, both teams have so many weapons. Petron’s are more obvious, but San Mig’s are just as effective, but maybe not as consistent. For Petron, Fajardo is a beast inside, and now has the confidence to back up his size. He will surely get his numbers in Game 7, but who, other than the constant Millsap, will support him. Marcio Lassiter can score from anywhere, beyond the arc or driving to the basket, but how many opportunities will he get? Season MVP Arwind Santos has had a forgettable series overall, but he is always a threat on both ends of the floor. Millsap is overflowing with talent, but I think he’s most effective going to the basket, even if he has shown the ability to hit from outside. His foot injury, as well as that of Alex Cabagnot, will matter in Game 7.

For San Mig, as good as Yap and Simon can play in one game, the edge goes to San Mig when Barroca and Alex Mallari also deliver. Tim Cone is a wily veteran coach who can change things up to confuse the opponent, but Gee Abanilla has been able to keep in pace, close enough to not be outclassed. Sometimes, Blakely handles the ball too much, which is good when it results in a San Mig basket. His free throw shooting in Game 6 was awesome (9 of 12), by his standards. Can he keep it up? Pingris, Devance, and maybe Yancy de Ocampo, have to play even bigger if they want to win Game 7. Finally, Big Game James has to live up to his name.

So, what seemed highly unlikely has become reality. Game 7 is set at the Araneta Coliseum on Friday, 25 October 2013, at 8:00 p.m. It all boils down to one game and, by the way both squads have fought from end to end throughout the series, fans are expecting another thrilling, down-the-wire battle. That’s the way it should be. There is no more favored team in this series. One team will just have to claim it.

You can follow Charlie on Twitter @CharlieC.

Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.

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