VETERAN gunner Dondon Hontiveros believed Alaska’s struggles towards the tail end of the PBA Philippine Cup eliminations somehow prepared the Aces for the tough grind ahead.
Now they are reaping the fruits of it especially in the playoffs.
Once again showing steely nerves and a strong resolve, Alaska bounced back from a huge 22-point deficit to hack out an 88-82 overtime win over San Miguel for a 1-0 lead in their best-of-seven title series Wednesday night.
The amazing comeback marked the third time in their last seven playoff matches did the Aces rallied back from a big first half deficit to win.
And Hontiveros credit the Aces’ new-found confidence to what they’ve gone through to make it this far in the playoffs.
“You’re no. 1 for the most part of the elims, eh kala namin pasok na kami (in the semifinals). We really hoped na kami ang papasok sa top two,” recalled the 37-year-old Hontiveros of how the Aces opened the season with six straight wins and an 8-1 (win-loss) record later.
“Even sa last game (of the eliminations) of San Miguel and Blackwater, (we’re hoping) sana makatsamba ang Blackwater, kasi gusto namin pumasok sa top two.”
But back-to-back losses to Rain or Shine and Barangay Ginebra in its last two elimination round games knocked Alaska out of the running for one of two automatic semifinal seats.
Alaska needed to beat NLEX and Meralco in the stepladder quarterfinals, then had to endure a physical semifinal series against Rain or Shine, before prevailing, 4-2, to arrange a title showdown against top seeded San Miguel.
“Imagine, ang ganda ng record mo, then, you’re playing in a do-or-die? Dun namin nakita na as long as gagawin mo lang yung game plan mo, kaya namin. But we just had to do it the hard way and it will make us better,” added Hontiveros, who banged in 12 of his total 15 points in the second half, including a crucial three-point shot in the extension period that sealed Alaska’s amazing victory.
Now that the Aces are in the All-Filipino conference finals, Hontiveros is hopeful the Aces won’t waste the chance they have of winning the most prestigious title for the season.
The former University of Cebu standout related how Alaska team owner Fred Uytengsu joined the team in the pre-Game One huddle to remind them that Eric Menk is the lone player in the team to win a Philippine Cup title.
“Yung pinakita ni boss Fred before the start of game, sabi niya, si Eric lang ang nanalo ng All-Filipino championship sa amin. It’s the hardest but the sweetest, kaya maganda din dumaan kami sa series ng Rain or Shine,” he added.