Semis: SLR 83, Aces 88

On: 22 January 2009

PBA's 34th Season

The idea of Alaska coach Tim Cone was to use a short rotation to win a big game.

The gamble paid off with the nine men rotated by Cone overcoming a tough challenge, carrying Alaska to the threshold of the KFC PBA Philippine Cup finale at the Astrodome Wednesday.

The Aces erected a 26-point lead in the first half and held off a spirited chase by the Sta. Lucia Realtors for an 88-83 win and a three-game-to-one lead in their best-of-seven semifinal showdown.

Alaska leaned heavily on the exploits of two-time MVP winner Willie Miller, LA Tenorio and Joe Devance as the Aces topped the Realtors to move a win shy of a first finals since beating the Talk n Text Phone Pals in the 2007 Fiesta Cup title playoff.

Curiously, Talk n Text also moved a win shy of winning its own semis showdown with San Miguel Beer.

Talk n Text and Alaska go for the clincher in Game Five in the same venue tomorrow.

Sta. Lucia, the reigning champion, and San Miguel need to beat Alaska and Talk n Text three in a row to salvage the series. For the record, Barangay Ginebra and Purefoods are the only teams which have pulled off the trick in the long history of the pro league.

"Whew! It was tough. Because it's a big game, I went with the (main) guys, playing them with much minutes. I just worried with tonight's game and bahala na. It nearly backfired as the guys got tired in the end," said Alaska coach Time Cone.

"Sta. Lucia is a team with so much character. They just won't quit. No matter how far you get ahead, they can come back and get at you. You really can't relax," Cone added.

And having squandered a 3-1 lead before, Cone said he knows very well the series is far from over.

"We've been here before. The last time we got this lead, we got beat. We remember it very well. We know it's not safe specially against Sta. Lucia," said Cone, recalling a sad experience, blowing a 3-1 lead versus Purefoods in their 2006 Philippine Cup semifinals duel.

Miller and Tony dela Cruz got the Aces to a strong start as they combined for 23 points, outscoring the entire Sta. Lucia team in the first quarter.

The Aces took the opening quarter at 31-14 on a superb 77.8 percent field-goal shooting and kept the pace to stretch their lead to 53-35 at halftime.

It was a lopsided first half with the Aces leading by as many as 26 points at 49-23.

The Realtors picked up their game in the third period, converting 38.9 percent of their shots as against the Aces' 30.4-percent clip. Still, Alaska preserved a big lead, 72-56, going into the final canto.

But the Realtors, indeed, just won't give up.

Joseph Yeo and Ryan Reyes led the Sta. Lucia charge as the Realtors rallied to within four points four times with the last at 83-87.

At 79-84, Sta. Lucia could have put more pressure on Alaska but Devance blocked a drive-in layup by Yeo.

"It was the biggest play of the night," said Cone of Devance's block.

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