The last time the San Mig Coffee Mixers were in the PBA Finals, they lost in seven games to the Rain or Shine Elasto-Painters. That was just last year, in this very same tournament, when they were still known as the B-Meg Llamados.
The Llamados lost three of the first four games in the series, which effectively put them on the brink of losing the championship. They clawed back, however, in Games 5 & 6, winning by an average of 13 points. Coach Tim Cone’s wards were able to tie the series and force a seventh game.
The Painters had the better start in that rubber match, leading by 13 after the first period, but the Llamados battled back and made a game of it all the way. In the end, though, ROS exploited Marqus Blakely’s falling into foul trouble and made the big shots to ice the game and the title.
It was a great time for coach Yeng Guiao, who guaranteed the title after his squad lost Game 2. The Llamados, meanwhile, who were one of the deepest teams in the league, found themselves swimming in self-doubt. Blakely, in particular, felt quite responsible for the Finals defeat, and vowed to return with a vengeance.
“I think we have something to prove, for sure,” he said in a recent interview.
So far, Blakely has been proving one thing – that he and his team are ready to atone for last year’s slip-and-slide. He has been averaging 25.0 points, 16.2 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.7 blocks, and 1.7 steals per game, while also shooting 50% from the field. In short, Blakely has been superb, not to mention most of his stats are better than last year’s numbers. His player efficiency rating, in fact, has gone up from 50.3 EFF in 2012 to 55.8 EFF this season. Clearly, he won’t leave any stone unturned in his quest to snare the crown.
Helping him along the way will be a slew of locals who have been stepping up at the most critical times.
In the Mixers’ huge win over Meralco near the end of the elims, it was PJ Simon who waxed hot, scoring 20 points on 9-of-16 FG shooting. A week later, Joe Devance and Allein Maliksi paired up for 22 points as SMC beat Alaska. In Game 3 of their semis match-up with the Bolts, the Mixers leaned on young guards Alex Mallari and Mark Barroca, who combined for 41 markers. In the series-clinching Game 4, it was the turn of Big Game James Yap and Marc Pingris to lead the team. Yap drilled in 19 points, while Ping scored 16, grabbed 7 boards, and dished out 4 assists.
The moral of the story?
Coach Tim Cone can pluck anybody on his roster on any given night and know that he will have at least one guy stepping up. He will need that here, especially against a team as stacked as Petron Blaze, and also because Maliksi has been relegated to a glorified cheerleader.
In San Mig’s only game against Petron this conference, the Boosters won pretty much because the Mixers were rather careless with the basketball (22 turnovers) and horrendous from the line (11-of-22 free throws). This despite coach Cone’s wards outrebounding Petron, having more assists, blocking more shots, and shooting much better from the field (43% to 33%). Even Blakely was “held back” by the Boosters. Blakely shot 11-of-17 from the floor, but he accounted for 8 of SMC’s 11 misses from the line.
For the Mixers to atone not just for that loss but also for the loss in Game 7 of last season’s Govs’ Cup, they will need to be at their very best. SMC will have to find a way to limit Petron’s hulking frontline. Their guards will have to be sharp both in terms of shooting and playmaking. And, perhaps most of all, Blakely must be able to hit those friggin’ free throws, else their bid for redemption goes up in smoke.
Enzo Flojo is new here on the PBA site, but he has been writing about all things basketball for quite some time now. You can read more of his stuff on his nationally-recognized blog, HoopNut.com, on the college hoops site, Inboundpass.com, or you can follow him on Twitter — @HoopNut.
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