By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE FINALS of the Philippine Basketball Association Governors’ Cup does not start until Dec. 5 to give way to the preparation and campaign of the league-backed national team for the fifth window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers. It is a setup that Alaska Aces coach Alex Compton finds “different” but nonetheless welcomes on a personal level as it affords him time to rest and recharge following a gruelling ride they had to make to the championship stage.
Mr. Compton and the Aces barged into the finals of the season-ending PBA tournament after defeating the gutsy Meralco Bolts, 99-92, in Game Four of their best-of-five semifinal series on Saturday at the Cuneta Astrodome and taking the affair, 3-1, to make their way to their first finals appearance in seven conferences.
The Aces will be facing the Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok in the best-of-seven finals, a rematch that took eight years to be realized, having met last in the Big Dance in the 2010 Philippine Cup.
Following a tough journey to reach the finals of the ongoing tournament that saw them work hard to finish third in the elimination round and overcome a powerhouse team in the San Miguel Beermen in the quarterfinals and the no-quit Bolts in the semifinals, Mr. Compton is embracing the break before plunging back into what he considers to be another battle of a series with Magnolia.
“It’s kind of weird we have a long break before the finals but I understand why and I’m glad the league is supporting the national team so much. [Former Gilas Pilipinas] Coach Chot [Reyes] said ‘Once a Gilas, always a Gilas’ and I’m a Gilas for life so I’m supporting the national team,” said Mr. Compton following their Game Four win over the Bolts.
“It’s just a different setup. And honest to goodness I love it right now because I’m so stressed out and tired and I haven’t slept well in a while. If we have to start the finals on Wednesday it would not be good for my health. So I’m glad there is a break,” he added.
In clinching the spot for the finals, the Aces bucked injuries and fatigue to get the better of Meralco. It was an effort that was not lost to Mr. Compton, giving praises to his players afterwards.
“I’m so proud of our guys, I’m so proud of our guys. We play hard. I’m a little emotional right now but I’m proud of them. The guys just kept making plays. I’m so honored to be part of this team and this franchise,” said Mr. Compton, who is searching for his first PBA title after falling short in the finals four times previously.
In their Game Four victory, import Mike Harris led the way with 27 points and 14 rebounds while the hurting JVee Casio and Vic Manuel, Jeron Teng and Kevin Racal stepped up and gave their team a big boost.
As for their matchup with Magnolia in the finals, Mr. Compton said he is very excited for it and expecting no less than a challenging battle.
“It’s gonna be a battle, an absolute battle. They’re playing well right now. Meralco was playing good but they had a lot of injured players. Magnolia is playing well and has everybody clicking. They have a great coach and they have great players,” Mr. Compton said.
Game One of the finals between Alaska and Magnolia is at the Mall of Asia (MoA) Arena.