Remembering San Miguel’s historic comeback

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The San Miguel Beermen became the first ever NBA or PBA team to overcome 0-3 deficit and win a best-of seven series in early 2016 when they survived a gritty Alaska Aces squad to win the 2016 Philippine Cup, 4-3.

The Beermen had to endure the lose of their star center June Mar Fajardo during the last game of the semifinals and had battle the first four finals games without him.

As it turned out, the rest of the crew needed to win just one game during his absence to come out victorious from this adversity and that’s just what they did.

Fajardo’s teammates won Game Four to set-up for his return. Although not 100 percent, his presence on the floor was enough to lift the Beermen in Games 5 and 6 and punctuated the comeback with a strong Game 7 performance.

With Fajardo back in action full harness for final game, the Aces could not stop the Beermen from landing their league-leading 22nd championship and record tying 6th Philippine/All-Filipino Cup title (up to this point) aside from establishing a first world record.

The San Miguel Beermen finished the elimination round with a 9-2 win-loss card, in a tie with the Aces but had to settle with second place due to inferior quotient. They, however, gained an outright semifinals berth.

They survived a physical Rain or Shine, 4-2, in the semis but momentarily lost Fajardo on a questionable box out play.

Fajardo’s injury was feared to be serious that it not only put a damper on San Miguel’s finals quest but also his availability during Gilas Pilipinas’ 2016 Olympic Qualifiers participation some five months later.

The Beermen promptly lost the first three games to be buried in a 0-3 hole in the seven game series.

Then the good news trickled in. Fajardo’s injury is not that bad at all and he will be back in the series.

His return, indeed, inspired a Beermen a tear from here onwards to accomplish what no basketball team in the world had done.

The rest of the Beermen started this comeback “from the dead” by claiming Game 4, 110-104, in overtime. They had to outscore the Aces by eight in the fourth and 12-6 in overtime to stay alive, with Fajardo still out of commission.

The Aces, in retrospect, might have learned the hard way that they actually bungled their best chance to win the series when they dropped this one.

The Beermen got back their All-Star center in Game 5 and went on to capture the game in another overtime game. The Beermen would need a 19-6 blast in overtime to topple the Aces in a game where Fajardo only played 16 minutes off the bench.

The Beermen again pulled out a late push in Game 6, a 33-23 fourth quarter gem, to send the series to a rubber match. Fajardo’s playing time, 22 minutes in this game, continued to grow and so is with his contributions. He scored 16 points and pulled down seven rebounds to highlight his importance to the team.

Riding the momentum and with Fajardo is back to his old self in Game Seven, finishing with 21 points and 15 rebounds in 29 minutes, the Beermen simply cannot be denied the best comeback ever of a NBA or PBA team.

San Miguel is now the first Philippine or US professional basketball team, the NBA included, to win a Best-of-seven series coming from a 0–3 deficit.

They can be now talked in the same breath with only five other teams in US professional sports and two in other parts of the world who did the trick, although none of them are basketball related.

Them and the 2004 Boston Red Sox, who won the American League Championship Series over the New York Yankees, were the only non-hockey teams to do such comeback.

See related story: Remembering Red Sox’s Keep the Faith: A Minor Miracle

The Toronto Maple Leafs against the Detroit Red Wings in the 1942 Stanley Cup Finals, the New York Islanders over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1975 Stanley Cup Quarterfinals, the Philadelphia Flyers over the Boston Bruins in the 2010 Stanley Cup Eastern Conference Semifinals, and the Los Angeles Kings over the San Jose Sharks in the 2014 Stanley Cup Western Conference Quarterfinals were the National Hockey League teams to achieve the feat.

The KalPa over the Espoo Blues in the 2012 Liiga playoffs and the SKA St. Petersburg over the CSKA Moscow in the 2015 Gagarin Cup Western Conference Finals were the only other non-US teams to perform the comeback.

The Liiga, called the Finnish Elite League in English, is the top professional ice hockey league in Finland. The Gagarin Cup is awarded annually to the league playoff champion at the end of each Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) season. The KHL is widely considered to be the premier professional ice hockey league in Europe and Asia, and second in the world behind the NHL.

In addition, their 22nd total PBA titles up to this point were way up against the 14 of the Aces and the 13 of  the defunct Crispa franchise. They then tied Magnolia for the most Philippine/All-Filipino Cup titles (They have since overtaken right in the next year for the all-time lead).

By: ARMANDO M. BOLISLIS, originally published January, 2017