THERE was hardly a sense of positivity in Alaska’s practice at the Hoops Center in Mandaluyong on a drizzling Thursday afternoon ahead of Game Four of the PBA Governors’ Cup Finals against San Miguel Beer.
As a sign of things to come, the training, originally slated 1 to 3 p.m., started an hour late and as a result, ended an hour late, too – as opposed to the notion the Aces took longer than usual to work on improvements needed for them to stave off elimination.
After a seemingly quiet training behind closed doors, there were only two Aces left doing extra work inside the cold facility, with import Romeo Travis refining his mid-range game and Dondon Hontiveros taking some three-pointers.
Then Calvin Abueva rushed out and declined to grant an interview.
The gloomy weather outside was also an indication.
Coach Alex Compton said it was just “okay” practice considering the Aces had turned their energy up near the end even after coming off a game the night before and a somewhat heavy practice the day before that.
Yet they insist all remain positive and eager to stay alive in the best-of-seven series, starting at the 7 p.m. tipoff at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum on Friday.
“Positive pa rin. Hindi pa naman tapos,” Cyrus Baguio said. “Malay mo, mag-iba yung kuwento bukas. Hindi kami nawawalan ng pag-asa, hangga’t buhay pa.”
Travis shared the same sentiment.
“We’re very optimistic because we were in Games Two and Three right into the last minute,” the underperforming import said. “We cleaned up some things offensively and we’re looking to get more movement, so I think we’ll be fine.”
They may be down 3-0, but the Aces could’ve been easily up 2-1 in the series had they managed to protect their lead in the payoff periods of the past two games. At least, the two close games were still an improvement after they suffered a 30-point beating in the opener.
“The most frustrating thing for us is that in the last two games, hindi kami na-dominate,” Compton said. “They’re a very good team and we respect them. They deserve to be up three-zero. But in the last two games, we’re leading halfway through the fourth quarter, so we’re right there.”
Compton also noted their head-to-head matchup against the Beermen the entire season, in which they have a 6-7 win-loss card.
“If you look at the season series, all the game we’ve played since October, they’re up on us only by one game. So as good as they are, I don’t feel like it’s wala kaming pag-asa.”
The Aces have themselves to blame for the latest loss, a 96-89 decision last Wednesday, when the team, which had been leading the tournament in free-throw shooting at 77.3 percent coming into the series, shot just 6-of-17 or 35 percent from the foul line in Game Three .
Also averaging 6.1 three-point conversions per game coming into the series, the Aces missed all but three of their 18 three-point attempts for a paltry 17 percent from beyond the arc.
“There are some things that are in our control that we’re not doing,” Compton said.
Baguio feels they just lack the killer instinct to finish the Beermen off in grind-out battles.
“Yung finishing lang, yung pag close out ng game siguro,” the former University of Santo Tomas star said. “Kulang lang sa focus. At nawawala kami eh, lalo na sa defense parang lumalambot.”
The Aces have to figure it out soon as they hope to do the improbable by becoming the first team to overcome a 3-0 deficit.
“I still believe we can come back and win a game,” Compton said. “And maybe, who knows, we can win another game. And let’s swing for the fences, let’s go for the miracle.”
But as the cliché goes, they have to take it one game at a time.
“I don’t think it’s a miracle to beat them in one game,” Compton said. “We’re not so weak and they’re so strong that we’re incapable of beating them.”