Semifinals Game 7: SLR 92, Alaska 84

On: 11 February 2008

Ryan Reyes saved his best for last.

Prior to Game 7 against the Alaska Aces in their 2007-2008 Smart-PBA Philippines Cup semifinal series, Reyes only averaged 5.83 points per game. In the pivotal game last night, with the series tied 3 games a piece, Reyes showed everyone why he should be this year’s Rookie of the Year by scoring 21 points and holding Willie Miller, the reigning MVP, to just 10 points and a 5-of-14 shooting, which included a scoreless stint in the fourth period. Reyes also sank a crucial 3-point shot with less than a minute to go in the game and the Aces threatening to make a comeback.

Reyes’ efforts helped Sta. Lucia Realtors to a 92-84 win against the Aces and propelled them into the Finals against the Purefoods Tender Juicy Giants. Game 1 of the best-of-seven Finals will start on Friday, 15 February 2008, at the Araneta Coliseum.

The Realtors have never been in the ‘Last Dance’ since capturing the PBA Governors Cup in 2001 – the franchise's first and only title since joining the league in 1993 – and their hunger to win another one was evident Sunday night before a crowd of over 17,000 at the Araneta Coliseum.

The Realtors did what they do best to win Game 7 and that is to play a rugged honest defense which virtually silenced Alaska's deadly backcourt trio of Miller, Jeffrey Cariaso and Mike Cortez. The Realtors also employed a no-nonsense drive to the basket, attacking the lane on every opportunity.

"I'm so happy. The boys did what they have to do. They never gave up and they showed tremendous teamwork,” said Boyet Fernandez, Sta. Lucia’s coach for only the second conference who has not won a championship as a player during his entire 12-year career in the league.

Sta. Lucia's run-up to the Finals was totally unexpected. With a revamped roster that was viewed by many as rag-tag, the Realtors were never given a Chinaman's chance to make the semis or probably even contend for the championship.

But they overcame the odds with tenacious defense, grit and determination.

Aside from Reyes, Kelly Williams also had a big night by scoring 19 points and grabbing 15 rebounds in an almost no-relief 47 minutes on the floor. Dennis Espino who averaged almost 4 turnovers in the series, was so focused in Game 7 that he only made 1 turnover aside from scoring 17 points and grabbed 7 rebounds.

"Nagbunga din ang mga paghihirap namin. I guess the coaches also deserved the credit. They prepared us really well for this conference," said Dennis Espino.

Afterwards, he made a vow that everything that needs to be done will be done for the franchise to finally claim the most prestigious PBA crown.

"Hindi na namin pakakawalan ito," he said. "Gagawin namin lahat. Step by step lang. Ibang level na naman ito."

Espino, who along with Marlou Aquino and Paolo Mendoza are the only three remaining members of their 2001 champion team.

Nelbert Omolon also came into the game fully prepared to do what must be done as he scored 17 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, issued 2 assists, stole the ball twice and blocked 3 shots, mostly against Cortez.

The balanced attacked of the Realtors rendered all strategies of Aces Coach Tim Cone useless.
There was simply nothing the Aces could do. Cone, the most decorated active coach today, tried to find the right combination but still failed, unable to get the points from his MVP. In the first half, Alaska also committed 14 turnovers, which were translated to 16 points by the Realtors.

"They (Realtors) deserved it, they played and they are hungry," said Cone. "We're not an easy team to break but they broke us. They played their hearts out. They played with bigger hearts, and that's the ultimate complement, a credit to their organization."

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