Game 5: The PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals game we deserved

After four consecutive blowout results, the explosive billing of the Commissioner’s Cup Finals finally met expectations.

Hours before tip-off, players from both Barangay Ginebra and the San Miguel Beermen hit the floor to shoot their warm up jumpers. San Miguel gunner Marcio Lassiter, who was getting in the zone with laser-eye focus on the rim, was asked to describe the series.

“Blowouts,” Lassiter said almost in a daze.

Just a few minutes earlier, Ginebra guard Scottie Thompson could only let out a small laugh when asked to describe the four consecutive blowout affairs.

At that point the two teams split the series two games apiece, but the margins for victory were as wide as a river. The average margin of victory in the series was 30.2 points per game, with the winner of each game basically using a single quarter to blow the other team out.

No one had a great explanation as to why the series had turned out the way it did.

“Who would’ve thought?” San Miguel coach Leo Austria said before the game.

Then tip-off came, and it suddenly exploded into the pitched battle that fans and observers were expecting when Ginebra and San Miguel burst into the Finals. Initially, the game itself was bound to be overshadowed by the announcement that the Philippines will send a basketball team to the 2018 Asian Games in a press conference at the Big Dome before tip-off.

A quick deuce from Joe Devance on one end and a slam from Renaldo Balkman on the other set the tone for what was going to be a much talked about night. For the first time in the series, we had a close game and there were many protagonists who came to the fore and showcased their wares.

Balkman was mammoth for San Miguel, lifting them up with 22 markers in the first half, an ailing Japeth Aguilar provided much needed energy off the bench for Ginebra, Chris Ross succeeded in limiting Justin Brownlee, and Thompson was dynamic both on the offensive and defensive end.

“Well, I guess everybody got what they wanted in terms of a close game,” Ginebra coach Tim Cone said after the game. “It couldn’t get any closer than that.”

HALF TIME ADJUSTMENTS

Behind the scenes, there were great fighting words from both sides. With the scores tied at 40-apiece, both San Miguel and Ginebra were trying to outwit each other tactically. This was the first battle of on-the-fly adjustments in the series.

San Miguel assistant coach Peter Martin said they had to get newly-minted Best Player of the Conference June Mar Fajardo into the ball game, reminding me that they had ‘won seven championships feeding June Mar’ in the post. It’s hard to argue with that thinking.

Fajardo, who at that point only had four points to his name, looked second best to Ginebra giant Greg Slaughter. But that changed quickly in the second half, and the Kraken finished with a typically eye popping 23 points and 11 rebounds.

The San Miguel staff rode June Mar hard during the second half, one moment that popped out was coach Jorge Gallent reminding the big man to box out after losing out on two rebounds prior to a timeout.

It was just the push Fajardo needed to raise his game another level.

For Ginebra, assistant coach Olsen Racela said that the game was going exactly how they had liked. Racela noted that should the game remain the same, it would become a defensive battle and it was something that the Kings were adept at. After all, the calling card of Tim Cone-coached teams is that they will grind out victories.

“I remember being at a timeout and saying, ‘Guys, we are all about defense and making stops,’” Cone said after the game.

Based on the result, you could tell Ginebra were comfortable taking home a win by such a slim margin.

MISSED CALLS

Looking back on the game tape, its understandable that the San Miguel Beermen would feel aggrieved that calls did not go their way.

In fact, some of them have taken to social media to air their misgivings.

Balkman was referencing a missed call on a Thompson step out of bounds, with San Miguel holding a slim 83-82 advantage with 53.8 seconds left to play. The referees missed that step, while Thompson was jostling for the ball with Arwind Santos.

Santos threw the ball out to the side, and the referees blew the whistle for that infraction instead. Upon the review, it was clear that Thompson stepped out, but the call was on Santos throwing the ball out of bounds and they didn’t retroactively call the Ginebra player’s misstep.

The play right after, Brownlee tried to spin his way out of trouble in the paint before finding Thompson for a go ahead bucket. Chris Ross immediately turned to the referee to ask for a traveling call, but didn’t get the whistle.

There was plenty to complain about if you’re a San Miguel fan, but San Miguel coach Leo Austria chalked it all down to not getting the breaks of the game at the end.

“We did not get the good breaks,” Austria said in the post-game press conference. “It’s a 50-50 game, but it went out of our way.”

AN EVERYTHING GAME

Every great game needs a hero, a face to remember the moment by.

Ray Allen had his moment for the Miami Heat with a crazy fall away three pointer, Kyrie Irving dug a dagger into the Warriors in the NBA Finals, and Justin Brownlee gave Ginebra a championship with a top of the key buzzer-beater.

This game will be remembered for Scottie Thompson’s late-game efforts to steal the game for Ginebra.

Thompson was having a good game, and had 14 markers going into the payoff period. But then Fajardo put him on a poster that made everyone forget what he had done up to that point.

With Ross running a fast break, Thompson tried to put a body between the guard and the basket. Ross then flipped the ball to an onrushing Fajardo, who had plenty of space to make his move. Thompson, the brave soul that he is, took to the sky to challenge the Cebuano behemoth. But Fajardo punished the rim while ignoring the diminutive Ginebra guard’s efforts.

Not particularly known for his offense, Thompson suddenly switched on. After being dunked on by Fajardo, a few game minutes later it was the guard’s turn to challenge the San Miguel big.

Thompson earned a painful pair of free throws after barging into a Fajardo shaped wall, and duly converted the resulting charities. The University of Perpetual Help-product also got Ginebra’s go-ahead bucket soon after, this time lifting the ball just beyond Fajardo’s outstretched hand with 36 ticks left on the clock. With the game hanging by a thread, Thompson gave Ginebra an 86-83 advantage, with 24.2 left to play on a fastbreak.

Thompson would finish the game with 20 points, 11 rebounds, and three assists, and his head coach sang his praises.

“Scottie had a great everything game,” Ginebra head coach Tim Cone said. “An unbelievable game, rebounds early in the game, playing Cabagnot all game long, picking up big huge defensive rebounds down the stretch.”

CLOSING IT OUT

After four consecutive blowouts, perhaps the law of averages dictated that fans were due a heart-stopping contest.

Game 5 was definitely the one that bucked the trend, and freed us from the malaise induced by the first four games of the series. Going into Game 6, the series will probably continue in the same vein as Game 5 due to the fact that there is so much more at stake.

For the first time this series, both San Miguel and Ginebra will playing like they are in an individual game, not in a long series. The first four games was all about opting not to expend too much energy in making the score respectable, and prepare for the next contest. This time around, both teams can’t be conservative anymore.

“There is no difference between a 30 point win and a one point win,” would be a common theme echoed by both sides throughout the series.

Game 6 does not provide that luxury, especially with Ginebra already within touching distance and San Miguel battling for survival. I wouldn’t bet on another blowout again, given the pride that these two ball clubs possess.

It is amazing how one game can flip everything around, even for the fans. The PBA Commissioner’s Cup is fun again, and Game 6 should be a titanic match-up that no one should miss.