MANILA, JULY 17, 2009
(STAR) SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin Henson - It’s the fifth straight PBA conference where the Finals will be decided in a Game 7 and fans couldn’t ask for anything more climactic. Tonight, defending champion Barangay Ginebra and San Miguel Beer dispute the Fiesta Conference crown in a winner-take-all Game 7 at the Big Dome with a huge crowd expected to witness history unfold.

San Miguel is hungry for a title – it hasn’t won a championship since 2005 and the Beermen are shooting for only their second crown in the last 19 conferences.

Coach Siot Tanquingcen has never won a title for San Miguel and he’d like to finally do it, after bagging two for Ginebra.

On the other hand, Kings coach Joseph Uichico has never beaten Tanquingcen in a playoff series but now, he has the opportunity to end the jinx. He could’ve clinched it in Game 6 after Ginebra opened a 3-2 series lead but San Miguel had other plans, forcing the ultimate confrontation by hacking out a 98-84 decision last Wednesday.

Uichico said working against San Miguel’s size has been his biggest challenge in the Finals. But somehow, he’s managed to neutralize the Beermen’s advantage by using quickness, deadly outside shooting and key adjustments in defensive match-ups.

The trend has been uncannily consistent through the series with Ginebra winning the odd-number games – 1, 3 and 5, and San Miguel, the even, 2, 4, and 6. If the trend persists, it will be Ginebra to emerge victorious when the smoke clears tonight.

* * *

In Game 5, we set specific quantifiable targets for both teams, based on how they’ve performed so far in the series. For San Miguel, the targets were: Less than 15 turnovers, less than 20 Ginebra free throws made and less than 90 Ginebra points. For the Kings, the targets were: More than 40 bench points, at least 13 triple conversions and less than 15 San Miguel offensive rebounds.

As it turned out, Ginebra hit two of its three targets while San Miguel batted zero. The Beermen limped off the court with 22 turnovers, Ginebra knocked down 27-of-38 free throws and the Kings racked up 106 points. On the flipside, Ginebra drained 13 triples and scored exactly 40 bench points.

In Game 6, the targets put the protagonists to the test once more. This time, the situation was reversed. San Miguel turned aggressive on defense and made it a low-scoring encounter, which is more suited to Tanquingcen’s style. Before the contest, Tanquingcen had said his focus isn’t so much in offense as in defense.

San Miguel limited Ginebra to only 84 points, 34 bench points and 6-of-25 triples, way below the target of 13. The Kings were also held to 20-of-28 foul shots. The Beermen were slightly more efficient on the floor with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 18-to-21 compared to Ginebra’s 13-of-19 and dominated the boards, 47-39, with a 13-6 advantage in second chance points.

What was evident was San Miguel’s attention to detail. The Beermen made life

miserable for David Noel, rotating Gabe Freeman, Danny Ildefonso and Marc Pingris to shadow him from end to end. Noel had his looks from the perimeter, escaping with 4-of-8 triples, but went 0-of-5 from two-point range, meaning San Miguel was dead serious in taking away his high percentage shots. Noel was particularly hounded in the second period where he went scoreless as San Miguel built a 13-point lead, 44-31, before Sunday Salvacion buried a triple to close out the half.

Another San Miguel adjustment was allowing Eric Menk the freedom to take charge in offense. When Menk is looking the score, Ginebra’s flow slows down and the ball moves away from the perimeter – where the Kings are deadliest. It’s possible that Tanquingcen’s gamble is to give Menk his points in exchange for disrupting the rhythm in the Ginebra backcourt’s offense.

Menk wound up with 15 points but five Ginebra guards – Jay-Jay Helterbrand, Chico Lanete, Chris Pacana, Ronald Tubid and Cyrus Baguio – were a combined 0-of-9 from three-point range.

It’s no secret that Ginebra’s offense is anchored on three-point shooting, Noel’s dominating presence and the explosiveness of the Kings’ guards. San Miguel did a good job of clamping down on those three elements to make Game 7 happen.

* * *

Over 16,000 fans packed the Araneta Coliseum last Wednesday and they were treated to another classic. There were three ties and nine lead changes before San Miguel seized the upper hand for good, 30-29, with a Danny Ildefonso twinner in the second quarter.

Ginebra ignited a scorching 13-0 blast to raze a 15-point San Miguel lead to two, 61-59, in the third period but that was the closest the Kings got the rest of the way.

Freeman managed to play 38 minutes – he logged only 24 because of foul trouble in Game 5 – and tallied 24 points, 12 in the third period when San Miguel pulled away. He also grabbed 12 rebounds, including four offensive. But Ildefonso was San Miguel’s man of the hour, delivering 10 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter as he put the team on his shoulders. Mike Cortez also delivered in the clutch, sinking two triples in the payoff period and scoring five of San Miguel’s last six points.

For San Miguel to win Game 7, Freeman must stay out of foul trouble, they’ve got to control both boards, they must limit their turnovers to 15 or less and Ginebra shouldn’t score more than 90. That means the key to San Miguel’s victory is defense.

For Ginebra to prevail, Noel must dominate, they’ve got to wax hot from three-point range, they must be aggressive going to the rim – putting pressure on San Miguel’s defenders and earning trips to the line, and the game must be high-scoring and up-tempo. That means the key to Ginebra’s victory is offense.

It should be quite a battle tonight.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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