OLD rivals San Miguel Beer and Alaska clash anew when they figure in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Commissioner’s Cup best-of-five semifinal series today at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Game 1 erupts at 6:40 pm with the Beermen looking to display the same fire and killer instinct that made them victorious in their previous meeting two years ago when they essayed one of the greatest comebacks in league history.
In 2016, San Miguel crawled its way back from a 0-3 hole to frustrate Alaska, 4-3, and win its second straight Philippine Cup crown.
The Beermen were unstoppable from there as they won six of the last 10 conferences and another victory over Alaska will put them close to extending that dynasty.
San Miguel coach Leo Austria said they would march into the series prepared, knowing that the Aces will fight back to avenge that setback.
“This is the first time we’re facing Alaska in a non-finals series and, for sure, they will be very eager to beat us. Pride will prevail in this series,” said Austria after the Beermen swept Talk ‘N Text to punch a ticket to the semis.
Austria said a lot of things already happened since that fateful series.
“They’re a better team than they were two years ago,” said Austria. “They’re cohesive and playing really well.”
“Coach Alex (Compton) has done a good job despite all adversities.”
Indeed, the Aces survived their shaky campaign despite some off-court setbacks, including the stabbing of Jeron Teng and the continuous suspension of Calvin Abueva.
But those setbacks turned into a golden opportunity as Vic Manuel stepped up to take the cudgels for the embattled Aces.
In the eliminations, Manuel averaged 24.1 points and 6.2 rebounds to lead the Best Player of the Conference derby over the likes of four-time Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo of San Miguel.
With Manuel at the helm, the Aces sent Magnolia packing in just one game to be the first team in the semifinals.
“I missed the semis. I’m so proud of my team. They fought with desire this conference,” said Compton after finally marching to the semifinals for the first time in two years.
“We’ll do our best against San Miguel.”
Renaldo Balkman and Diamon Simpson, both returning imports, will also play a vital role in the series while the battle of guards between Alex Cabagnot and Chris Ross against Chris Banchero and JV Casio looms as a slugfest.
Prized rookie Christian Standhardinger is also expected to suit up while there is no word yet on the possible lifting of Abueva’s indefinite suspension.