Unforgettable PBA finals in 2010s include ‘Beeracle’, Brownlee’s buzzer-beater and TNT-Rain or Shine slugfest
In the 45-year history of the PBA, beginning with Toyota beating hated rival Crispa 3-1 for the 1975 First Conference crown up to last January’s Governors’ Cup series that saw Barangay Ginebra defeat Meralco 4-1, there have been a total of 129 championship series. We take a look back at the most memorable ones, five from each decade of the league’s existence. We’ve already gone through the 1970s, the 1980s, the 1990s and 2000s. Let’s move now to the 2010s.
After a seven-year absence, the three-conference format made its way back to the PBA at the advent of the 2010s. More conferences, of course, meant that more titles were up for grabs, but that didn’t logic didn’t necessarily reflect itself in the results as the decade ended.
In the 2000s, eight teams won at least two of the 25 championships available; one team, San Miguel, clinched five. There wasn’t a dramatic shrink in that number when the new decade rolled in — six teams still bagged trophies — but prestige was mostly consolidated by four franchises, three of which won five or more.
The San Miguel franchise was clearly the big winner as it accounted for a third of the 27 titles up for contention during that stretch. Playing as Petron, it leaned on the brilliance of Arwind Santos for the first of nine titles before later riding on the coattails of June Mar Fajardo and other veterans for eight more.
Not far behind were the Purefoods and Talk ‘N Text franchises, who topped the podium six and five times, respectively, behind some historical starts to the decade. Coach Tim Cone worked his magic with Barangay Ginebra and helped the team catch up with four, while Rain or Shine (2) and Alaska (1) accounted for the other titles.
Despite the power shift, the decade certainly wasn’t lacking in memorable championship series. Four of our five in this list went the distance.
2012 Commissioner’s Cup: Denzel Bowles tows B-Meg to improbable comeback vs. Talk ‘N Text in Game 7
B-Meg, ranked third after the elimination round, aimed to get in the way of top seed Talk ‘N Text, which claimed top honors in the Philippine Cup and wanted to get back on track after having its Grand Slam aspirations dashed in the season-ending conference in the prior year.
Talk ‘N Text clinched an outright semis seat but had to overcome a 2-1 deficit in a five-game series against Barako Bull, while B-Meg dispatched Meralco (no. 6) and Barangay Ginebra (no. 2) in three and four games, respectively, to enter the finals.
The seven-game classic was a back-and-forth affair after the Derby Ace Llamados drew first blood. B-Meg took Games 1, 3 and 5 mostly behind Denzel Bowles, the conference’s Best Import, while the top-seeded Tropang Texters countered in Games 2, 4 and 6 thanks to Donnell Harvey and some strong games from other vaunted locals in Jared Dillinger, Larry Fonacier, Jimmy Alapag and Ryan Reyes.
Talk ‘N Text bagged a decisive Game 6 behind Jayson Castro and was well on its way to hoisting the trophy in the dying seconds of Game 7, but a foul halted the celebration before it even began: down 76-74 with 1.2 seconds left, Bowles drew a foul after stretching himself down low in an attempt to send the game into overtime.
To this day, few situations could equal the odds and pressure that were laid firmly on the shoulders of Bowles, who was 23 at the time. Describing the visibly-anxious import’s two free throws as “pressure-packed” could be considered an understatement, but you could also say the same for the overwhelming feeling of relief he immediately felt after sinking both in front of 21,046 fans to force another five minutes of action.
Fighting with import Harvey on the bench with six fouls, Talk ‘N Text still looked like it could make amends for the late blunder in regulation and even took an 81-80 lead after a Dillinger fade-away jumper put them there with 3:17 left. That would be the last field goal they’d make in the next three minutes, though, as an emotional Bowles settled in and went to work.
Free from the stress of those two free throws, the import became unguardable in overtime and thoroughly dominated the Tropang Texters’ undersized frontline. Bowles first hit a tough baseline jumper with Kelly Williams right in his face, then converted on a putback, and later muscled his way to the cup for the last of six straight points to give B-Meg a five-point cushion — and the lead for good — with 56 seconds left.
Bowles scored 11 of B-Meg’s 14 points in overtime, where they eventually carved out a 90-84 victory, and finished with 39 points (16-for-29 shots), 21 rebounds and three blocks to cap off a stellar effort for his only title in the league. James Yap, meanwhile, had 12 points and eight rebounds and was named the Finals MVP.
Talk ‘N Text, on the other hand, saw Jimmy Alapag’s 29-point game go to waste, though it would manage two more titles in the same decade.
2014 Governors’ Cup: Cone, San Mig Coffee make history in clinching Grand Slam
There’s a lot of merit in Cone saying this was probably one of the hardest to win among all other Triple Crowns in league history.
The season-ending team — led by Yap, Marc Pingris, PJ Simon and Mark Barroca, reinforced by the returning Marqus Blakely and backed by key cogs that collectively hit their stride at the right time — was pretty loaded on paper, but just like in the two prior title runs, San Mig Coffee didn’t finish better than fourth in the elimination round. Still, the Mixers took care of business and set a showdown with Rain or Shine for the second time in the 2013-14 season as they edged out San Miguel in the quarterfinals and overhauled a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-five against Talk ‘N Text in the semis.
Redemption was on Rain or Shine’s mind after it lost in six games in the first series in the Philippine Cup that year. The second-seeded Elasto Painters beat Barangay Ginebra in the first round before narrowly surviving a five-game showdown with Alaska.
Unlike the first clash between these two teams, this would go down the wire. Rain or Shine forced a Game 5 in a seesaw series behind Best Import Arizona Reid’s continued heroics and leaned on him in the rubber match anew.
San Mig Coffee built a comfortable 69-53 lead in the third period and looked poised for a sterling finish in the finale before a hobbled Reid, Paul Lee and Raymond Alazan conspired to close the gap to a single point, 73-72. The Mixers did a little better in the fourth and opened up some breathing room, but a Reid basket to bring Rain or Shine within three, 92-89, later set the stage for one of the most tense final minutes ever.
Life was rough for both squads in the final 1:32. Yap and Barroca would each miss a jumper and two free throws to leave the door open for the Elasto Painters, but their counterparts couldn’t take advantage either, as they missed five attempts from downtown to tie the game.
Lee first came up empty on a corner three with 26 seconds left and would later miss another one alongside Jeff Chan, who likewise missed two attempts of his own. Reid had a last-second chance to prevent San Mig Coffee from running away with only the PBA’s fifth Grand Slam, but he also failed to find the bottom of the net.
Yap finished with 29 points and eight boards and was handed his fourth career Finals MVP award for his calm yet sustained dominance all series long against Rain or Shine. Blakely also overcame Reid after being outplayed in the prior four games and notched an all-around line of 20 and 16 boards along with eight assists and three blocks. Joe Devance and Marc Pingirs both had double-doubles of 10 markers and 11 rebounds.
In the process, Cone — incidentally the last coach to win a Grand Slam 18 years before with Alaska — also became the first and only coach so far to win two Grand Slams.
2015 Commissioner’s Cup: Talk ‘N Text escapes Rain or Shine in seven-game thriller
Talk ‘N Text’s finals run this conference was its first without longtime pillar Jimmy Alapag — who retired in the previous conference and became team manager — and its last appearance on the big stage before 2019. The squad was still in great hands, though, as Jayson Castro emerged as the undisputed top option on his way to the Best Player of the Conference award.
On the other side was Rain or Shine, a team looking for a breakthrough after three finals heartbreaks. The team was in good position to redeem itself; with Best Import awardee Wayne Chism, the Elasto Painters finished alongside the Tropang Texters with an 8-3 card and rolled to the finals, although they did have to endure a close affair in the quarterfinals with an eight-seeded Barangay Ginebra looking to overcome a twice-to-beat disadvantage.
The heated, physical series had the feel of a high-stakes matchup right off the bat:
- Ivan Johnson, Talk ‘N Text’s skilled but temperamental import, drew the ire of his opponents after bumping in the sidelines into coach Yeng Guiao, who said the move was incidental and was brought by “a lack of breeding and respect.” The Tropang Texters scored the first win of the series there behind Ranidel de Ocampo’s 24 points to overcome Chism’s 34 and 15 boards.
- A red-hot Castro exploded for a career-best 44 points on nine threes in Game 2, but Rain or Shine still won by eight as five players scored in double-figures.
- Chism (32 points, 15 rebounds) got the best of Johnson (30 and 14) as both imports took charge in Rain or Shine’s Game 3 win. Lee also lost a tooth here after taking an inadvertent elbow from Johnson.
- Matt Ganuelas-Rosser, Jireh Ibanes and JR Quinahan were ejected and fined in Talk ‘N Text’s Game 4 victory after a bench-clearing scuffle in the fourth quarter.
- Talk ‘N Text inched closer to the title with a Game 5 win but let Rain or Shine force a decider after the Elasto Painters took Game 6; Guiao hit at Johnson again and called the import “mentally unstable” after he dished out some hard fouls.
The do-or-die game was no exception to the drama that had earlier unfolded. This was the first Game 7 to ever reach two overtime periods — and given how so much had happened up to that point, one couldn’t have ruled out the possibility of a third one until Johnson collared the rebound on an intentional miss by Lee at the line to help secure a 121-119 win for his side.
De Ocampo canned a career-high 34 points on 13-for-19 shots and was hailed Finals MVP, while Johnson got the last laugh against Chism’s Herculean effort (34 points, 29 boards) after putting up 30 and 11 in the win. This was also coach Jong Uichico’s first title in seven years, and he joined Guiao, Chot Reyes, Norman Black, Baby Dalupan and Tommy Manotoc in being the only coaches to win titles with three different teams.
Lee had 38 for Rain or Shine, which is still searching for a return trip to the finals after their fourth loss of the decade there.
2015-16 Philippine Cup: The ‘Beeracle’
Very few finales, if any at all, could ever top the third of a one-sided trilogy between San Miguel and Alaska, which produced the greatest basketball comeback ever in the PBA.
After going up 3-0, many thought the Aces had begun its path to reprisal. Dropping another series after losing the first two via a seven-game nail-biter and a sweep would surely raise some existential questions moving forward, and Alaska certainly did its best in avoiding those by taking advantage of the absence of June Mar Fajardo, who was kept out of the first three matches due to a knee injury he sustained in SMB’s semifinal series against Rain or Shine.
A sweep seemed imminent in Game 4 as Alaska led by as many as 13 in the final seven minutes of action. But the Beermen, perhaps buoyed emotionally and mentally by the sight of Fajardo receiving the Best Player of the Conference plum before the game, made the first improbable push by forcing overtime and eventually winning there.
San Miguel drew inspiration again from Fajardo in Game 5, where the big man staged a surprise return and recorded 13 points and four boards in 16 minutes off the bench. Santos led the team with team-highs of 22 and 16 rebounds to pace another overtime win and keep the Beermen alive.
In Game 6, San Miguel used a massive fourth quarter run to stun Alaska and force a decider — a task that felt less impossible as the Beermen slowly regained their lethal championship form. Fajardo was once again pivotal and logged better numbers (16 points, seven rebounds in 22 minutes), but SMB mostly leaned on Marcio Lassiter’s timely burst (26 points on 7-for-13 shooting, nine boards).
Game 7 immediately had all the makings of an unforgettable classic early on: the game drew a record crowd of 23,616 at the Mall of Asia Arena, saw Alaska burn three consecutive timeouts with just one second into the game, and had everyone already penciling in SMB as the runaway winner after building a 21-point lead before the Aces later whittled that lead down to just five.
The Beermen would not be denied of its destiny, though, as it later brought the hammer down on Alaska to become the first team in professional basketball history to climb out of a 0-3 hole. Chris Ross was huge on offense and put up 21 points on 8-for-13 shooting (4-for-6 treys) and was later feted with the Finals MVP award. Fajardo played through injury anew and was a tide-turning force with 21 points and 15 rebounds, while Lassiter and Santos added 15 and 13.
This would be the title that defined SMB’s dominance in the decade even as they proceeded to win five more while taking two shots at a Grand Slam of their own.
Alaska would later recover to break into the finals again — one in the following conference against Rain or Shine and one in the 2018 Governors’ Cup against Magnolia — but it was never able to draw the same opportunity it had when it held a seemingly insurmountable advantage over San Miguel in this series.
2016 Governors’ Cup: Brownlee buzzer-beater vs. Meralco ends Ginebra title drought
This is a storybook ending that has been often retold. The first of yet another lopsided trilogy this decade began with a quest for something elusive for both franchises: Barangay Ginebra was keen on ending eight years of futility, while Meralco wanted to write a new chapter in its young history.
The Bolts sat at fourth after the eliminations and were carried by Best Import Allen Durham, who had basically willed his side to an upset of the top-seeded KaTropa in the semifinals. Young guns Chris Newsome and Baser Amer, reliables Cliff Hodge and Reynel Hugnatan and the returning Alapag filled out the gaps.
For Ginebra, they had to settle for Brownlee after losing Paul Harris to an injury in their first win. He turned out to be more than a replacement import and proved to be a thorn on the side of San Miguel, whose first bid for a Grand Slam was blocked by the Gin Kings in the five-game semis.
Game 1 was plenty eventful for Meralco. Alapag hit two triples to tie Allan Caidic’s 17-year record atop the all-time three-point leaderboard, but it was Durham’s 46 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists that mainly propelled the Bolts to its first-ever win in the finals. Durham also effectively negated LA Tenorio’s 36 points in the close overtime victory.
After a subpar series opener where he had more shots taken (18) than points scored (17), Brownlee was much better in Game 2 by scoring 32 and pulling down 12 rebounds to help Ginebra tie the series. Alapag also surpassed Caidic with a triple in the loss.
Durham had a couple of 30-point, 20-rebound games in the next two matches but managed only one win as both teams exchanged close victories in Games 3 and 4. Game 5 was pivotal, and Ginebra managed to take the upper hand after staying composed in the face of a massive Bolts run that cut a 21-point lead down to five late in the game.
That Game 5 finish might be the most replayed game-winner in recent years. Tied at 88 in front of a booming 22,000 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, Brownlee sent the entire arena into a frenzy by draining a buzzer-beating three in Durham’s face to seal the win and give Barangay Ginebra its first taste of a title for the first time since 2008.
Brownlee finished with 31 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals. Meanwhile, Tenorio scored 25 points, dished out six assists and grabbed five rebounds and was later named Finals MVP.
Ginebra and Meralco would face each other twice more before the decade ended, but Brownlee and the Gin Kings would always get in the way as Durham, who won two more Best Import awards, and the Bolts continued to fall short in the hunt for their first title.— Courtesy of Eros Villanueva / tv5.espn.com