HAMPERED by a painful shooting arm and struggling with his shot all season, James Yap rose to the occasion when coach Tim Cone called out his number, hitting the game-winning three-pointer in San Mig's thrilling 79-76 win over Barangay Ginebra in Game Five on Saturday.
Yap finished off a play designed for him by Cone by hitting his trademark fallaway three-pointer off Mac Baracael with 13.4 seconds to go, giving San Mig a 78-76 lead and taking the momentum away from a Ginebra side that had come charging back from nine points down in the endgame.
Two missed drives by Ginebra star LA Tenorio and a pressure-packed free throw delivered by rookie Justin Melton completed the win that gave the Mixers a 3-2 lead in a best-of-seven series that had turned into a war of attrition before a packed crowd at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The thrilling win also gave a San Mig team that had lost its first five games of the season a shot at a second successive trip to the Finals when Game Six is played on Monday, also at the Big Dome.
“I guess it all comes down to the last possession. It came down to a James Yap three-point shot,” said Cone, admiring the big shot made by his misfiring superstar.
But the American mentor was also quick to credit playmaker Mark Barroca for making the right decision in the waning seconds of the game, setting up Yap’s game-changing three-pointer.
“That was a nice pass there by Mark. He knew it was an option (passing the ball to Yap) and James got the shot," said Cone of his vastly improved guard. "Then Mark just played wonderful defense on LA on that last shot, it worked out for us.”
Yap's big shot ruined an exceptional game by Ginebra sophomore Chris Ellis, who picked up the cudgels for Tenorio and the Kings' Twin Towers by scoring 20 points, including a pull-up jumper that gave Ginebra the lead, 76-75, time down to 22 seconds.
Tenorio struggled all game along against the defense of Barroca, scoring just nine points on a frigid 3-of-13 shooting from the field. He did have seven assists, but also came down with a conference-high tying six turnovers in Game Five.
Japeth Aguilar and Greg Slaughter were held to a combined 18 points and 18 rebounds.
Cone said he was also surprised to see Tenorio go for a quick two when Ginebra needed three points to send the game into overtime after Melton's split of his free throws.
“It’s hard to stay calm in the basketball game with the crowd going nuts. But that’s what you live for in this game and I’m just happy to be a part of it (series),” said Cone.
Barroca led the Mixers with 14 points, five rebounds, four assists, three steals and one block to earn Best Player of the Game honors.