The just-concluded San Miguel Beermen versus Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok Philippine Cup best-of-seven championship series, which ended with SMB prevailing (4-3) was a thriller of a finals. Hardly anyone gave Magnolia a chance to win the series against the four (now five)-time defending champions, but as it turned out, the Hotshots gave everything they had in a masterful performance. The team was perhaps one Jio Jalalon basket away from hoisting the trophy and completing a monumental upset. What a game, and what a series! Game 7 itself was hard-fought, well-played, exciting, and in the end, heartbreaking (for Magnolia fans), and satisfying (even for non-San Miguel fans).
Because of this, we couldn't help but reminisce about certain PBA championship Game 7s of yore, which left fans out of breath as well. Let's revisit.
SAN MIGUEL vs. PUREFOODS (1988 Open Conference)
In its very first conference in the PBA, the Open, Purefoods cracked the Finals after finishing tied with San Miguel at the end of the semifinal round. The Beermen were coming off a championship in the Reinforced Conference the previous season but the odds were even. The Hotdogs were ahead, 3-2, but badly lost in Game 6, 105-85, with import Norman Black leading the San Miguel charge with 42 points.
PBA historian Jay Mercado recalls: "In Game 7, SMB was slightly ahead, 71-70, but sophomore Al Solis knocked down a triple to give Purefoods the lead, 73-71. The Beermen went on a run and led 88-80 before the Ayala franchise, through Solis and rookie Jojo Lastimosa, made crucial baskets to cut the lead down to two, 90-88. With 14 seconds left, Lastimosa sent Black to the free throw line and the reliable import coolly sank both to give SMB a four-point lead. Purefoods made a basket within three seconds to cut the lead in half, but Purefoods playing-coach Ramon Fernandez had to foul Ricardo Brown, who made both charities and sealed the title for San Miguel, which won, 94-92. Black led the way with 38 points and Abet Guidaben ably supported him with 28. Solis top-scored for the Hotdogs with 23, followed by Fernandez's 20."
The story of the game, though, was the "disappearance" of Purefoods' highly-regarded import David Thirdkill, who only tallied 16 points in the decider. The import known as "The Sheriff" was stifled by SMB's smothering defense that led to his lowest scoring output since he first came to the league in 1987, when he earned Best Import honors playing for the Tanduay Rhum Masters.
PRESTO vs. PUREFOODS (1990 All-Filipino Conference)
The final score of this Game 7, 115-96, may appear as a rout, but the storyline was compelling. Purefoods was coming off back-to-back runner-up finishes in the All Filipino Conference of the past two seasons and was ripe to finally snare its very first championship under legendary coach Baby Dalupan. It was a close series, with Presto winning the odd-numbered games (Games 1, 3, and 5) and Purefoods snatching the even-numbered ones (Games 2, 4, and 6). Misfortune struck both camps even before the game started, however, as eventual season MVP Allan Caidic of Presto suffered a wrist injury, while Purefoods center Jerry Codiñera was stricken with hepatitis. Both would not play in Game 7.
Mercado recalled: "The Tivolis were the heavy underdogs as Caidic's role was difficult to fill up while Purefoods still had the likes of Nelson Asaytono, Jack Tanuan, and Gido Babilonia to cover for Codiñera's absence. But, in an incredible display of resiliency, veteran smarts, and sheer will power, Presto's veterans, led by Arnie Tuadles, Manny Victorino, Abe King, and Willie Generalao took over and dominated their younger rivals."
Tuadles, a recent acquisition from Shell after helping the Oilers win the first conference, displayed his wide array of offensive moves to take over Caidic's spot at small forward, scoring 33 markers, 20 in the second half. Victorino ably backed him up with 25 points, making mincemeat of the defense of his younger defenders. King took over the defensive task against Alvin Patrimonio and shackled the Captain all game long. Generalao provided the court leadership, proving to his former team that he wasn't washed up yet, while dominating youngsters Dindo Pumaren and Solis.
"The game was still close in the 3rd quarter with Presto slightly ahead, 49-45 but Generalao led a 22-10 detonation, scoring eight points and stealing twice, to put the game beyond reach, 71-55. Purefoods tried to pull off a resurgence, but could only cut the lead to nine points, 80-71 in the early minutes of the 4th quarter before Tuadles and Victorino finished them off with one clutch basket after another," said Mercado.
This Game 7 proved that the seasoned veterans were still unwilling to turn over the reins to the young turks as the Hotdogs had to wait for the next conference to finally collar their first ever PBA title. As for Presto, this providentially turned out to be the last, yet, most memorable, of their six championships.
GINEBRA vs. SHELL (1991 First Conference)
The two teams tangled in a turbulent Finals the year before with Shell winning, 4-2, after (then) Añejo Rum 65 walked out of the game, down 62-47 with still 2:56 left in the 2nd quarter. It was a rematch and while Shell brought back reliable import Bobby Parks, Ginebra opted for Jervis Cole instead of retaining Sylvester Gray. Shell took advantage from the get-go, winning Games 1, 3, and 4 to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series. But the Gins came back, routing Shell in Game 5 after pulling off a 32-0 run after being down 80-85 in the fourth quarter, to seal the win, 116-90. The Gins forced a winner-take-all Game 7 after holding back the Rimula X, 123-119 in Game 6.
As per Mercado: "Game 7 was a classic all game long, with Shell gaining an early lead and Ginebra not giving up and just kept coming back. With no less than playing coach Robert Jaworski leading the way, Ginebra was just down a point at the end of the third quarter, 82-81. With 2:46 left, Ronnie Magsanoc knocked down a triple to cut Ginebra's lead to one, 97-96. Jaworski made a difficult barreling layup off Benjie Paras to give the Gins a three-point cushion but back-to-back baskets by Parks and Jojo Martin gave Shell their last taste of the lead, 100-99 with 1:35 left. A couple of misses by Jaworski and Paras kept the game close but Dante Gonzalgo made a bold drive from the left flank and scored off a layup and one after drawing a foul from Paras with 43 seconds remaining. Gonzalgo sank the bonus FT but Shell, in the next play, knotted the score through a Paras lay-in with only 26 ticks left. Ginebra froze the ball and Chito Loyzaga attacked the paint, only to be foiled by Paras, time down to 4 seconds left."
Here is where one of the famous plays in PBA history happened. With the shot clock reset to five seconds (that was the rule back then), Ginebra sued for time and Jaworski made a perfect inbound pass to Rudy Distrito who didn't hesitate to go for the shot despite the outstretched hands of Paras and Martin to seal the final count, 104-102, with just a second left. Jervis Cole blocked Magsanoc's last second heave from beyond the arc. Ginebra's feat made it the first team in PBA history to come back from a 1-3 deficit and win the championship series, as this game makes a case for the most exciting Game 7 of a Finals series in league history.
SHELL vs. MOBILINE (1998 Governors' Cup) and TNT vs. ALASKA (2007 Fiesta Conference)
These two memorable Game 7s came in seasons where many of the top players in the league did not play for their mother teams but instead for the national team. In 1998, the league's best were on the Centennial Team that was to compete in the Asian Games in Bangkok, Thailand, while in 2007, a top squad was assembled to compete in the FIBA Asia Championship in Tokushima, Japan. Despite (or maybe because of) the absence of several notable players, these two championship series went down to the wire.
In the 1998 Governors' Cup, amidst a tricky schedule that included a carry-over record from the Centennial Cup that helped prepare the Centennial Team for the Asian Games, the Mobiline Phone Pals, mentored by Eric Altamirano, reached the Finals against Formula Shell Super Unleaded, with Perry Ronquillo at the helm. In the era of two imports, Shell, led by John Best and Donald Williams, drew first blood in the series, but Mobiline, with imports Artemus "Tee" McClary and Silas Mills, won the next two games to take a 2-1 lead. Shell took Game four, Mobiline snatched Game 5, and Shell eked out a Game 6 win to force a rubber match.
In Game 7, Best was his usual self for Shell, but it was The Tower of Power, Benjie Paras, who stepped up in support of the Shell imports, scoring most of his 18 points in the fourth quarter. The lead of Shell was still precarious as time was running out. Gerry Esplana hit a jumper to stretch a one-point lead to three, and Mobiline had the opportunity to tie the game with less than five seconds remaining but could not get the ball to Mills, who was shooting well from rainbow country. Instead, Patrick Fran (now a Meralco Assistant Coach) missed a three-pointer at the buzzer, which could have won the game, and Formula Shell won its third title in franchise history, 93-91.
In the 2007 Fiesta Conference elimination round, the Alaska Aces finished second, while the Talk N Text Phone Pals landed in fourth. Led by season-MVP-to-be Willie Miller and import Rosell Ellis, Alaska automatically qualified for the Semis, where it defeated San Miguel Beer to enter the Finals. Talk N Text, with Mac Cardona as its main local gun and James Sullinger as its reinforcement, had to hurdle Air 21 in the Quarterfinals and then defending champion Red Bull Barako in the Semis to face the Aces in a best-of-7 showdown.
Tim Cone's Aces took Game 1, while Derrick Pumaren's Phone Pals secured Games 2 and 3. Alaska won a close one in Game 4, and Talk N Text returned the favor in Game 5. In Game 6, the Aces, led by Miller's 37 points, went on a scoring rampage and blew its opponent out, setting the stage for one last dance. The final game was close all throughout and remained undecided even in the last two minutes. Miller continued to score well, as did Ellis, but Alaska only had a two-point lead with less than a minute left. Sullinger could not convert for Talk N Text, which forced the team to foul Alaska's Reynel Hugnatan, who split his free throws to make it 99-96. Felix "Donbel" Belano of Talk N Text missed a three-point heave and time expired as Alaska prevailed.
B-MEG vs. TALK N TEXT (2012 Commissioner's Cup)
Denzel Bowles was the youngest import recruited for the Commissioner's Cup. Fresh out of the James Madison University with a short stint in Lithuania, the 23-year old was put to the test in his first stint in the PBA. Playing for the B-Meg Llamados, who wound up third in the eliminations, Bowles led his team to victory over the Meralco Bolts in the Quarterfinals and Barangay Ginebra in the Semis, to face the top-seeded Talk N Text Tropang Texters in the Finals. The Texters, with import NBA veteran Donnell Harvey, dispatched Barako Bull in the Semis.
B-Meg won Game 1, but the teams traded victories thereafter in the next five games, to set up the winner-take-all finale. James Yap, who would eventually be named Finals MVP, ably supported Bowles, named Best Import of the Conference earlier in the series, who played a monster game to wind up with 39 points (11 in overtime), none more important than the two he scored from the free throw line with only 1.2 seconds left in regulation, his team down by a field goal, 76-74. In what is considered a controversial call, the whistle sounded, a foul was assessed against Kelly Williams, and the referees awarded Bowles the charities. Under all sorts of pressure on his young shoulders, he canned them both to earn the extra five minutes, where B-Meg dominated to win, 90-84. Harvey had fouled out in regulation and Bowles played freely in the added period. Tears of joy fell from his eyes and Tim Cone and his squad won yet another championship.
TALK N TEXT vs. RAIN OR SHINE (2015 Commissioner's Cup)
Rain or Shine and Talk N Text were tied at the top of the elimination round in the Commissioner's Cup with a twice-to-beat advantage in the Quarterfinal round. The Elastopainters edged Barangay Ginebra by one point to reach the Semis, where they beat Meralco in a sweep. The Tropang Texters routed Barako Bull in the Quarters and beat Purefoods Star, 3-1 in the Semis, setting up the Finals match-up. With veteran coaches in Jong Uichico for Talk N Text and Yeng Guiao for Rain or Shine, two prolific imports (Ivan Johnson for TNT and Wayne Chism for ROS), and star-studded local crews, the battle was highly-anticipated.
The Finals saw several high-scoring performances from local players (Jayson Castro with 44 in Game 2, Ranidel de Ocampo with 33 and Chris Tiu with 21 in Game 4, de Ocampo with 34 and Paul Lee with 38 in Game 7, among others), and the battle of the imports was a sight to behold as well. Johnson, who had several run-ins with players and even coaches, was an intimidating presence. Chism tried his best to outwork him and match his numbers. Rain or Shine went up, 2-1. Then Talk N Text led the series, 3-2. When ROS won Game 6 to push it to the limit, the entire PBA community braced itself. In the deciding game, Chism matched his series-high of 34 points from Game 1 and grabbed 29 rebounds and Lee was magnificent offensively. The game was too close, as if it did not want to end. It went into overtime, and then into double overtime, as the teams matched each other basket for basket. With 3.1 seconds left, and TNT up by three, Lee was at the line for two free throws. He had to make the first, which he did, but had to intentionally miss the second for a chance at a tie or a win. Miss he did, but Johnson grabbed the rebound and with it, the victory, 121-119, for Talk N Text.
High drama. Spine-tingling suspense. All-out action. Maybe even a little profanity. Elements of some of the best games in PBA history. They leave us wanting more and more. All the Game 7s on this list had them. The last game between SMB and Magnolia had them. It's often said that "Game Seven" are the two best words in sports. These games surely reinforce that statement.