Alaska in key victory over fighting Ginebra.
MANILA: Alaska described this game as its championship, and the Aces played like it really was.
Willie Miller drained a difficult stretching lay-up with 4.6 seconds left last night that keyed the Aces' 76-75 victory over Barangay Ginebra at the Araneta Coliseum to seal two playoff games that would mean crucial spots in the PBA Fiesta Cup playoffs.
The Aces actually blew a 20-point lead at the start of the fourth quarter and needed to steady themselves at the crunch before going to Miller for the win to earn a clash with Coca-Cola tomorrow for the No. 8 spot.
Ginebra, after seeing its seven-game winning streak come to a halt, thus dropped into a similar playoff with Rain or Shine for the No. 2 seed and an automatic Final Four seat. The Elasto Painters and the Kings wound up with 8-6 tallies like Burger King but forged the playoff because of superior quotients.
Both games have been scheduled at the Ynares Center in Antipolo tomorrow, with the winner of the Ginebra vs. Rain or Shine match joining San Miguel in the semifinals automatically.
"I just told him that we would have some more work to do," Alaska coach Tim Cone said, when asked what he told Ginebra counterpart Jong Uichico at the end of the classic encounter.
"We played really well and I thought our defense was really good," Cone added. "But you know Ginebra, no lead is safe against that team, and we almost wound up holding the shorter end of the stick tonight.
"They don't call that team never-say-die for nothing," said Cone, who on Wednesday night said that this was their championship game, for losing it and dropping to No. 9 in the wildcard would mean a virtual early vacation for his crew.
Miller finished with 17 points, six rebounds and seven assists, closing out yet another game for the Aces, the 2007 champions of this tournament who never really got going here this year and are languishing in the lower half of the standings. Ginebra, after coming into the game protecting that seven-game run and averaging 100 points a contest, was limited to just 30 points at the half and to 48 after three periods before coming alive and almost pulling it off.
The Kings opened up the fourth quarter with a 16-0 run to make a game out of it before regaining the driver's seat with 3:58 left after a Jay-Jay Helterbrand triple for 73-72.
Rafi Reavis put Ginebra in the lead for the last time at 75-74 after two free throws off a Joe Devance foul before Miller hit that shot.
David Noel, who was held to just seven points by the stingy Alaska defense, had a chance to win the game for the Kings, receiving an inbounds pass before driving to the hoop only to be called for an offensive foul off Alaska import Rossell Ellis.
Meanwhile, the Tigers got 29 points and 14 rebounds from Asi Taulava in a 105-89 victory over San Miguel in the first game that allowed Coca-Cola to finish with a 6-8 card like the Aces.
Taulava scored 10 of those points in a string to end the third period and give the Tigers a 13-point lead which they never came close to losing as he and the squad made up for a lethargic showing on Wednesday that saw them get blown off the court by the Kings.
"I was more aggressive (offensively) than I used to," Taulava, sweat-soaked, told reporters later. "After that most embarrassing moment of my life last Wednesday, I had to step up and take charge."
Taulava was referring to a 12-point, four-rebound effort in 32 minutes of an 85-122 loss to the Kings last Wednesday, a loss that now stands as the franchise's third worst.
Sophomore swingman Ronjay Buenafe was also of huge help after scoring a career-high 30 points on an 8-of-11 clip from beyond three-point zone.
Import James Penny had the second double-double for the Tigers with 24 points and 10 rebounds to go with five assists.
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