The Alaska Aces can finally say they have exorcised the ghost of former coach Tim Cone.
The Aces came through with another superb second-half onslaught to dethrone Cone’s San Mig Coffee Mixers, 83-78, in a highly-entertaining Game 4 of their semifinals showdown and clinch the first finals seat in the PBA Commissioner's Cup.
Erratic and sloppy in the first half, Alaska settled down after the break, dropping a big 26-point counterattack in the third before prized rookie Calvin Abueva and import Robert Dozier finished the job in the payoff canto.
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Fresh from a 24-point explosion in their 89-82 win in Game 3 last Wednesday, the 6-foot-2 Abueva scattered all but two of his 14 points in the stretch while the 6-foot-10 Dozier, groping for form majority of the way, scored five of the team’s final six points in the last 2:05.
Those notable exploits, coupled with another lockdown defensive pressure in the second half, enabled the Aces to make their first finals appearance since winning 2010 Fiesta Conference title, Cone’s last championship as Alaska mentor.
Alaska, which dropped its first nine meetings against Cone, now has to wait for the winner of the Barangay Ginebra-Talk ‘N Text semifinal series, with Game 5 set this Sunday also at the Big Dome.
The Mixers, led by reigning Best Import Denzel Bowles’ 23 points and 22 rebounds, uncorked a jarring 19-to-nothing surge in the second canto and even led by as much as 52-37 but eventually ran out of gas anew in second half, scoring just 30 compared to the Aces’ 49-point turnaround.
The Main Man: Virtually absent in the first 36 minutes of play, Abueva clearly provided the biggest difference in the final canto.
The 6-foot-2 do-it-all wingman, dared by his taller San Mig defenders to shoot from beyond the arc, made them pay dearly, sinking two big triples while adding a clutch jumper after another in a fiery showing.
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Involved in a feisty clash with San Mig top gunner James Yap–who was not fielded in Game 4 due to a recurring back injury–and defender Marc Pingris earlier in the series, Abueva had the last laugh.
Honorable Mention: Struggling against the Mixers’ collapsing defense, Dozier somehow delivered the marginal points for the Aces in the winning time.
With the Aces ahead by just a solitary point, Dozier surprisingly drilled in a shotclock-beating triple then followed it up with a gutsy lay-up plus a foul off Barroca that made it an 82-78 count for the Aces with 65 seconds to go.
Those baskets, which came after Dozier missed his first nine attempts, couldn’t come at a better time for the Aces.
Game Turning Point: Outplayed by the Mixers in the first half where they trailed by as many as 34-48 at the break, the Aces buckled down to work behind their locals–Baguio, guard JVee Casio and center Sonny Thoss–in the third canto and kept within the Mixers’ coattails until early in the fourth.
After a Rafi Reavis lay-up put San Mig ahead 69-63, Alaska charged back behind Abueva with a 14-6 counterattack before a Pingris split made it a one-point with 2:23 left.
Then it was Dozier’s time to make his presence felt. The ball surprisingly falling into his hands, the Alaska import snapped his long offensive drought with a booming triple just before their shot clock expired for a four-point lead.
After two made charities by Bowles off Thoss’ sixth and final foul cut the deficit to just two, Dozier forced a turnover against San Mig’s Joe Devance then made a lay-up off a Barroca foul but failed to sink the bonus free throw, making it an 82-78 count with 1:05 remaining.
The Mixers came up empty from then on as a split by Abueva sealed the deal for the Aces with still 9.9 seconds to play.
“Wala ako sa katinuan nung umpisa. Parang na-ra-rattle ako kasi alam ko gusto makabawi ng San Mig ngayon. Sabi ko sa sarili ko nung fourth (quarter), ibibigay ko na ang lahat,” said ABueva, who also had eight rebounds.
“It’s a great win for us. This series is about defense. We were a bit tight overextending on our defense early but in the second half we settled on our defense. We dictated the tempo. James could’ve helped them because they lacked one more weapon inside. I thought we got better as games went by. We're happy we went through but we have to take care of the finals. It’s nice to beat the guy you look up to. For a while we could not solve him (Cone). You're happy in a sense na we got the monkey off our backs. Calvin is all about heart. Cyrus played through sprain. I’m happy for Rob (Dozier). I hope he gets the best import award and he's a class act,” stated Alaska coach Luigi Trillo.
ALASKA (83) – Baguio 16, Casio 15, Abueva 14, Thoss 9, Dela Cruz 9, Espinas 7, Dozier 6, Hontiveros 5, Jazul 2, Belasco 0.
SAN MIG COFFEE (78) – Bowles 23, Devance 18, Barroca 14, Simon 10, Pingris 5, Mallari 3, Reavis 3, Najorda 2, Gonzales 0, De Ocampo 0.
Quarterscores: 25-24, 34-48, 60-64, 83-78
SLIDESHOW OF THE GAME: