IT'S now a virtual sprint race, and protagonists San Miguel Beer and Meralco fight for the crucial head start in a Friday face-off at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Beermen and the Bolts slug it out at 6 p.m., disputing the pivotal 3-2 lead in an intriguing semis playoff marked by wild momentum swings.
Coach Norman Black and his troops ride the crest of their 111-97 triumph in Game 4, hoping to break the win-loss-win-loss pattern and get in a good position to steal the series from the favored former all-Filipino five-peat champs.
But it is easier said than done.
June Mar Fajardo and his teammates have yet to be beaten two in a row in the tourney. They're determined to strike again and regain the series lead in chase of a return ticket to the finals of the premier PBA tourney that they ruled for five straight years from 2014.
The Bolts, however, are motivated by their 14-point win Wednesday where the fine efforts of the Meralco guards were well complemented by the gutsy performances of big men Raymond Almazan and Cliff Hodge.
"Offensively we were able to get the ball to our bigs. Our bigs had a lot of confidence. They took their shots and they made their shots and that's really the key. We saw in Game 3 that they are just leaving our bigs wide open so we just have to make sure that they have a lot of confidence when they take the shots," said Meralco coach Norman Black, shortly after their Game 4 triumph.
"Sabi ni coach if we want to win, let's do it now. Kasi kapag natalo kami, parang mahirap na makabalik. Nag-respond lang kami, lahat nag-step-up," said Almazan, whose 12-point outburst in the third canto enabled Meralco to regain control after SMB trimmed their early 19-point lead to two late in the first half.
It was one of the wild momentum swings seen in the series.
With the series now a virtual race-to-two derby, the two teams are expected to go hammer and tongs at each other beginning in this game.
The focal point could well still be San Miguel's dominant 6-foot-10 center.
"Hindi mai-stop ng single matchup, kailangan pagtulung-tulungan, at kailangan maniwala kami na pwede siyang i-stop," said Almazan. (SB)