Red Bull, Sta. Lucia, SMB titles among 2000s list of memorable finals

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, and the 1990s. Let's move into the first decade of the new millennium.

The dawning of the new millennium ushered in a new era for the PBA. The influx of Fil-foreigners brought a new layer to the first professional basketball league in Asia.

Here are some memorable championship series from the 2000s.

2002 PBA Commissioner's Cup: Red Bull takes 7-game thiller over Talk 'N Text

This finals showdown pitted the Batang Red Bull Thunder bannered by coach Yeng Guiao and players such as 2002 PBA MVP Willie Miller, Davonn Harp, Jimwell Torion, and Lordy Tugade, along with veterans Noli Locsin and Nelson Asaytono.

Red Bull was also reinforced by former Best Import Antonio Lang, and Julius Nwosu, zooming to the best record of the conference at 7-3.

On the other side, TNT, which had American tactician Bill Bayno leading the troops, fielded cagers such as Elmer Lago, Mark Telan, Vic Pablo, Alex Crisano, and Donbel Belano.

The Phone Pals, reinforced by imports Pete Mikeal and Jerald Honeycutt, finished the elims seventh at an even 5-5.

Following an upset loss in the semifinals to San Miguel in that year's Commissioner's Cup quarterfinals, TNT made it into to the title round of the season-closing conference.

The Phone Pals upset the top seed to open the best-of-seven affair, 102-100, as their two imports combined for 63 points. Trailing in the final minutes of the game, Tugade pumped in three straight from downtown to trim the lead to three, 101-98.

However, Tugade just managed to score a two instead of a three in the final three seconds, as TNT escaped with the win.

In retaliation, Antonio Lang poured in a game-high 37 markers in Game 2, while Miller, Torion, and Junthy Valenzuela knocked down big triples down the stretch to take the 96-86 victory.

Game 3 would see TNT reclaim the series advantage, 80-71, but the bigger story would be Lang's 21 points, a far cry from his production in the previous contest.

Lang blamed leg pain as the source of his problems, but in an unprecedented move, team management decided to replace him with Sean Lampley.

In the fourth game, Red Bull cruised to a 20-point spread by the third quarter, before the Phone Pals mustered a comeback effort that ultimately dell short. Miller scored five points in the last minute or so to grab the contest, 89-81.

Talk 'N Text would use a big third quarter to steal Game 5 from the Thunder, manufacturing a 25-10 run to pull away with the win, 77-55. Red Bull's 55 would set the new record as the lowest-scoring Finals game at the time.

For Game 6, Nwosu stepped up for Guiao, tallying a game-high 28 points and 13 rebounds to force a decisive Game 7, 86-78.

In the winner-take-all match, Torion stayed true to his moniker "Tora-Tora," wreaking havoc in the late stages of the game, as he managed to grab key loose balls, and drilled the dagger triple to give Guiao his fourth title in a decade.

For his effort, Torion was awarded the Finals MVP award along with Harp. Lampley and Nwosu would combine for 34.

2003 PBA Reinforced Conference: Cariaso leads Coca-Cola past SMB

In a battle of sister teams, Coca-Cola and San Miguel duked it out to the distance for supremacy of the import-flavored conference.

The Tigers featured Jeff Cariaso, Johnny Abarrientos, Reynel Hugnatan, Rafi Reavis, Rob Wainwright, Rudy Hatfield, Bong Hawkins and Cris Bolado, along with Tee McClary as their import.

Facing them were a formidable squad of Dondon Hontiveros, Danny Ildefonso, Boybits Victoria, Olsen Racela, Dorian Pena, Nic Belasco, Benjie Paras, and import Kwan Johnson.

San Miguel took the opener of the best-of-seven series, 84-81, behind Ildefonso's stellar play. Danny I scored 11 of the Beermen's last 15 points, and his steal against McClary to seal the deal for SMB.

Johnson would not see action for Game 2 as he injured his groin, essentially wrapping up the win for Coca-Cola, 103-79. However, the contest was marred by McClary and Ildefonso's fistfight in the third quarter.

With the Tigers leading 62-43, the import landed an elbow to the side of Ildefonso, leading to the fisticuffs. Both were ejected, fined P 30,000 each, and were suspended for Game 3.

The Beermen found an able replacement in the person of 1992 NBA slam dunk champion Cedric Ceballos just in time for Game 3.

However, it would be the "Cebuano Hotshot" saving the day for San Miguel, as Hontiveros poured 13 of 22 points in the fourth quarter and San Miguel clinched an 86-81 win to take a 2-1 lead. Ceballos, the only import in the game, had 11 points and 10 rebounds in 38 minutes.

Coke leaned on Rudy Hatfield in Game 4 to tie the series, bucking a late Beermen run to win, 87-84.

Hatfield, who was named the Best Player of the Conference before the game, came up with the biggest plays of the night. The forward drilled the go-ahead-triple with 49 seconds left, and made the game-sealing rejection of Hontiveros to prevent overtime.

Johnson returned to the fold with his 34 points, but it was not enough. The Tigers won Game 5, 86-84, to take a 3-2 series lead.

Johnson, who seemed to have recovered from his injury, tallied 30 points, but fell flat in the waning seconds of the game. He muffed the go-ahead three with 21 seconds left and missed the game-tying shot as the buzzer expired.

San Miguel retaliated with an 85-80 victory in Game 6 to force Game 7.

In the decider, Cariaso stepped up in the fourth quarter to give Coca-Cola the crown, 92-84. McClary had 11 points in the payoff period as the Tigers zoomed to a sizeable 85-70 lead and never looked back.

For his efforts, Cariaso was awarded the Finals MVP.

2006 PBA Fiesta Conference: Red Bull frustrates Purefoods behind James Penny

The Red Bull Barako and Purefoods Chunkee Giants faced off in this best-of-seven series.

Red Bull was bannered by Enrico Villanueva, Lordy Tugade, Larry Fonacier, and import James Penny, while Purefoods would have season MVP James Yap, Kerby Raymundo, a young Marc Pingris, and import Marquin Chandler.

Game 1 was a close affair, with Red Bull pulling away with a 107-102 victory in overtime.

The Barako erected an eight-point lead in the extension before Noy Castillo sank two triples to cut the lead to two. However, a turnover would spell doom for the Chunkee Giants, paving the way for Red Bull to steal the win.

Villanueva powered his way inside for 25 points, as opposed to Raymundo's 11.

Red Bull repeated their Game 1 victory with a masterful 98-84 conquest to take a 2-0 lead. Tugade poured in 30 for the Barako while Chandler sizzled for 32 while in a losing effort.

Purefoods, wanting to avoid an 0-3 hole, came alive in Game 3 to secure a 103-97 decision.

Castillo, Yap, and Raymundo all came up big in the absence of Chandler, who fouled out late in the contest. The trio combined for 44 points. The Giants pounced on Red Bull's 26 turnovers, which was converted to 26 points by the offense.

Purefoods knotted the series at 2-all following a pulsating 96-91 victory.

James Yap, who was celebrating his 24th birthday, sealed the deal with clutch free throws, and was aided by Penny's late turnover.

Rookie sniper Larry Fonacier played hero in Game 5, as he made key baskets en route to Red Bull's 91-86 victory.

The former Blue Eagle drilled a booming three-pointer and canned four straight charities to give the Barako a 3-2 series lead over the Chunkee Giants.

Chandler paced Purefoods' offense with 43 points with 17 rebounds to boot, but it wasn't enough as they now teetered on the brink of elimination.

In Game 6, Red Bull pulled out all the stops as they stifled their opponents, 83-73, to clinch the conference title before 10,755 spectators.

Penny scored a team-high 21 but got valuable contributions from Cyrus Baguio, Mick Pennisi and Finals MVP Tugade.

2007-08 PBA Philippine Cup: Sta. Lucia wins 2nd crown in 7-game series over Purefoods

The All-Filipino championship was decided between the top two seeds Purefoods and Sta. Lucia.

Sta. Lucia had veterans Dennis Espino and Marlou Aquino, and key cogs Bitoy Omolon, Joseph Yeo and Kelly Williams.

On the opposing side, Purefoods was led by Kerby Raymundo, James Yap, PJ Simon, Rommel Adducul, and Mac Pingris.

The Realtors recovered from a sub-par start to draw first blood, 109-97, led by Williams' 24 markers and 12 boards.

Game 2 saw Sta. Lucia take a commanding 2-0 lead, 112-101, courtesy of Yeo's 16, and aided by 14 more from Denok Miranda, coupled with six assists. Their team leaned on a 12-2 blitz to close out the game.

Purefoods was able to make it a series in Game 3, taking their first win of the best-of-seven affair, 118-107.

Following the trend of the previous two games, the contest was not decided until the fourth quarter, with the "Scoring Apostle" Simon leading the way. Yap's 27 led Purefoods.

Yap carried that momentum to the fourth game as he scored a conference-high 32 points, helping lead his side to a 2-2 tie, 106-98.

Yap scored 10 points in the fourth, including four in the last two minutes, which saw a 95-all deadlock blow wide open in favor of the Chunkee Giants. Raymundo added 26 points and eight rebounds, while Simon pitched in 17 markers.

A crucial Game 5 saw Yap suspended for his flagrant foul on Yeo in Game 3, while the latter was also banned for retaliation in the same play.

"Machine Gun" Kelly's 20 points and 16 rebounds powered the Realtors to a 3-2 series lead over their opponents, while Espino and Mendoza made up for Yeo's absence with their stellar play.

Yap returned as a man on a mission for Game 6, as he steered his squad towards an 89-81 win to force a Game 7.

The former UE Red Warrior used the fourth quarter as a rallying point to help Purefoods live another day, pouring in 20 of his game-high 30. Pingris had his way inside with 21 boards, while Raymundo gave away a career-high 11 assists.

Williams was held to only 9 points, but still hauled down 21 rebounds.

In Game 7, the Realtors utilized an 11-0 run in the fourth quarter to overtake their opponents, 90-80, with under three minutes to go. They also used their smothering defense to hold Purefoods scoreless during the last six minutes to clinch their second title in franchise history with a 100-88 victory.

Skipper Espino submitted a classic performance of 29 points and five caroms, and was awarded as the Finals MVP.

2009 PBA Fiesta Conference: San Miguel noses out Ginebra in 7

The last finals series of the decade featured warring franchises San Miguel and Ginebra, and needed the full seven games to decide a victor.

San Miguel was led by skipper Olsen Racela, Jonas Villanueva, Danny Ildefonso, Dondon Hontiveros, Marc Pingris, Jay Washington, and import Gabe Freeman.

Ginebra, on the other hand, had Eric Menk, Jayjay Helterbrand, Billy Mamaril, Rafi Reavis, Ronald Tubid, and import David Noel. Mark Caguioa was unavailable in the series due to an injury.

Helterbrand led all scorers to open the series in Ginebra's favor, 102-96. The other half of the Fast and Furious combination stepped up with 21 points and 7 assists.

The Beermen tied things up through an emphatic 95-78 victory in Game 2 but violence would mar the game. Pingris and Ildefonso took offense to a Ginebra fan and fought him in the stands.

Ildefonso and Pingris were suspended for Game 3 and were fined P30,000 and P10,000, respectively.

Even without two key players, San Miguel zoomed to a 12-point lead, but Ginebra, behind Noel's 32-10-11 triple double, outscored them 40-25 in the fourth to win, 116-103.

Game 4 would become the tightest contest throughout the series, needing the final minute to decide the game's victor.

The contest featured 18 ties, as Freeman saved the day for San Miguel. The Beermen led by eight entering the last two minutes when Ginebra managed to cut the lead to two.

Freeman committed a costly error as he fouled Noel from downtown, opening the window for the Kings to retake the lead. However, Noel missed all three from the line, clinching the game for San Miguel.

Game 5 was played on a Monday, something unusual in a PBA Finals series, due to the Big Dome's unavailability owing to a busy weekend schedule.

The Kings leaned on a 29-point, 11-rebound performance from Noel to take a 3-2 series lead, 106-98. But San Miguel rose to the occasion in Game 6 to force Game 7, 98-84.

In Game 7, the Beermen took control from the get-go, taking a 25-15 lead after the opening quarter. It was a lead that they would not relinquish, eventually winning the clincher, 90-79, and the series, 4-3.

Freeman's gaudy numbers of 29 points and 18 rebounds helped the Beermen claim victory, while Villanueva had an all-around game of 15 points, 8 boards, and 7 assists and was awarded Finals MVP.