VIC Manuel made a crucial block and two free throws down the stretch to help the Alaska Aces stave off a persistent San Miguel Beermen squad and take a 2-0 lead in the Smart Bro PBA Philippine Cup best-of-seven finals with an 83-80 barn-burner victory last night at the Smart Areneta Coliseum.
Manuel not only made big plays near the end of the match but he also led Alaska's charge with 18 points along with 7 rebounds.
Alaska had early control of the game and led 23-18 after a quarter. Though missing the services of their star, June Mar Fajardo, for the second straight game, SMB kept it close the whole game.
With less than two minutes left in the ballgame, veteran Ronald Tubid hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 80-all.
Cebuano star Don Don Hontiveros, however, would give the Aces the lead by hitting one of two from the charity strip.
SMB had a chance to take the lead after Sonny Thoss sent Yancy De Ocampo to the free throw line but the 35-year-old veteran missed both free throws.
Marcio Lassiter then made a huge defensive play and stole the ball from Manuel to give SMB another chance at taking the lead. Tubid, missed a wide open three-pointer but De Ocampo was there to grab the offensive rebound. He attempted a put-back but Manuel made a crucial shot and the loose ball was collected by Calvin Abueva.
With little time left in regulation, The Beermen drew a quick foul and sent Manuel to the line for two. He hit both shots to give Alaska a three point lead, 83-80.
SMB had a chance to send the game into overtime with a three-pointer but Alex Cabagnot missed the buzzerbeater.
Hontiveros and Cyrus Baguio scored 12 and 10 points respectively, while Abueva was a point shy of a double-double with nine points and 11 rebounds.
Cabagnot paced SMB with 23 markers, while De Ocampo, who started the game for injured Fajardo, scored 13 points and grabbed 14 boards.
Game 3 of the finals will be on Friday in Lucena City.