COKE COPS ANOTHER DECEMBER CROWN

MANILA, December 15, 2003  (STAR) By Abac Cordero - There must be something special in this cold December weather that brings out the best in Coca-Cola.

After winning its first PBA crown at almost the same time last year, Coca-Cola tucked another one in last night by beating San Miguel, 92-84, in Game 7 of their Samsung Reinforced Conference showdown at the Araneta Coliseum.

A huge, cheering crowd of more than 10,000 witnessed Coca-Cola’s remarkable victory, actually their second since winning the 2002 All-Filipino crown over Alaska Milk on Christmas day. It was their first title this season after two straight runner-up finishes.

But for Coca-Cola coach Chot Reyes, it’s just the sweetest.

"Every title is sweeter than the last one. And now that we’ve got two, I’d say that the sweetest will be the next one. Coke rules," said Reyes inside the press room where he banged his hand on the table, with so much joy of course, before fielding the first question.

"And winning both our titles on the last month of the year is just a testament to our superb conditioning. It only shows how we can endure all the pain, all the injuries, while the others are suffering," said the flamboyant Coca-Cola coach.

"The best thing tonight is that it’s over. And I just hope that I can keep the Mr. December title," he added before leaving the press room to join his team in the dugout celebration.

After taking a 3-2 lead in the series, Coca-Cola failed to wrap it up when it lost Game 6 last Friday at the Araneta Coliseum, giving Reyes the thought that his charges, who’ve played a total of 65 games this season, have nothing more to give in the seventh game.

He was wrong.

"I really thought we had nothing left," he said, before dedicating the victory to George Palermo, a nine-year-old cancer patient at the Philippine General Hospital.

"Somehow, he was able to send a text message to the team yesterday saying he was praying for us. We dedicate this victory to him," said Reyes.

In the final game of the series and the season as well, it turned out that the Beermen were the ones who had nothing left in them, especially after crawling back from 15-point deficit midway in the final quarter with import Kwan Johnson sitting on the bench.

They managed to trim the deficit to within five with 69 ticks left but, with Johnson out with a recurring groin injury, the Beermen just couldn’t finish off the job.

It was the third time in the series that the Beermen were held to exactly 84 points. In fact, they never scored more than that after a losing 79-point output in the other loss.

The Beermen were all over Tee McClary in the first quarter where the beefy Coca-Cola import was held scoreless after throwing up five shots, including four triples, and committing a couple of turnovers. He was also called his second foul with still 7:09 left in the opening period.

In contrast, the Beermen waxed hot from the outside, hitting four triples with the last one, from Johnson, giving them a 25-16 lead with three minutes left. The Tigers had two treys in the first period, two of them courtesy of Rudy Hatfield.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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