PBA Finals: an astonishing Game 7 statistic

I’ll make an admission: I don’t follow the Philippine Basketball Association like I used to. I’ve watched several out-of-Manila, here-in-Cebu games. Back in the 1980s, I adored Allan Caidic’s three-pointer and reminisce his rivalry against Samboy Lim. Even my dad’s younger brother, Rey Pages, donned the Crispa Redmanizers jersey. And so, yes, I did follow the PBA—but not anymore.

That changed a couple of nights ago when I watched the most awaited finale of the season: Game 7 of the Motolite-PBA Fiesta Cup Finals between Barangay Ginebra and San Miguel Beer.

I missed the first half and watched starting the third quarter. The game? It was, sad to report, unexciting. After a 13-5 burst in that 3rd quarter, the Beermen—led by an import aptly-named Freeman—took a double-digit lead and never relinquished it. In the end, the former Cebu Gems star, Dondon Hontiveros, and his Men In White were champions, defeating the MVP Jayjay Helterbrand-led Men In Red, 90-79. It marked the 18th time that San Miguel were champions of the PBA.

As the buzzer sounded at the end-game, 20,541 spectators jolted from their seats inside the Araneta Coliseum as white confetti and yellow balloons showered the court, as SMB coach Siot Tanquingcen was lifted on his players’ shoulders and as the Beermen celebrated, screamed, chest-bumped.

Great. But I have a query to ask. Looking back at the last five PBA conferences, would you believe that all of them—dating back to the 2006-07 Fiesta Conference—featured a Game 7?

Well… Good! you’d say. Good for the SMB and Gin Kings devotees. Good for Danding Cojuangco, whose two teams battled in a no-lose situation for the man often called “Boss Danding.” Good for PBA fans that, instead of a 4-0 sweep, they got to watch three more games.

Which brings me to ask: How is that possible? I mean, five straight PBA championships, all decided by Game 7s?

This question got me thinking when, over a week ago in an exchange of emails among sportswriters, when the discussion on the PBA arose, there was near-unanimous talk that the Final would not finish in Game 4 or Game 5 or Game 6… but in Game 7. Reading the back-and-forth chatter, it appeared as if, to borrow a common term, it were “a foregone conclusion.”

Well, true enough—like a see-saw—Ginebra won Game 1, San Miguel won Game 2, Ginebra won Game 3, San Miguel won Game 4, Ginebra won Game 5, San Miguel won Game 6… and a Game 7 awaited us all.

Why, were the games of this season’s finale that close? Studying the recent Gin Kings-Beermen finals, the winning gaps per game were not. In Game 1, Ginebra won by six. Game 2, SMB by 17. Game 3, Gin Kings by 13. Game 4, SMB by two. Game 5, Gin Kings by eight. Game 6, SMB by 14. In those six games prior to Game 7, the average lead of the winning squad was 10 points—not exactly what you’d term “a close fight.”

Let’s compare the PBA to the model of all professional leagues worldwide, the NBA. Here’s my finding: In the past 15 NBA Finals, there have been three shut-outs (4-0), three endings where a 4-1 score concluded the season (including the recent L.A. Lakers victory over the Orlando Magic), and seven times when it was a 4-2 scorecard. But 4-3? Game 7? With the NBA?

Only once in the last 15 years. (This was in 2005 when the San Antonio Spurs defeated the Detroit Pistons.) Compared to five-out-of-the-last-five for the PBA.

I know, I know. The NBA and PBA are, obviously, different. Still, both employ the same best-of-seven Final format, right?
Don’t get me wrong. I love Game 7s. They make contests nail-biting. Also, I’m not saying—and I have absolutely zero evidence—that possible game-fixing is involved to “stretch” the games for the league to generate more revenue, for Araneta Coliseum to earn more rental income, for SMB and Brgy. Ginebra to be more watched and followed and revered and thus have stronger brands to us, Filipinos.

No. Still, doesn’t this remarkable statistic raise questions?

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