Semifinal stunners from San Miguel, NLEX
It was payback time—and how—for defending champion San Miguel Beer and underdog NLEX at the start of the PBA Philippine Cup semifinal playoffs last week.
The Beermen overwhelmed the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings, 102-90, Friday with their biggest star, four-time league Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo, hardly a factor in the rout with a season-low nine points. When Ginebra pinned a first loss in the tournament on SMB, 100-96, last Jan. 28, Fajardo had a game-high 33 points, 20 of them in the first half.
Playing in their first Final Four since their entry in 2014, the NLEX Road Warriors proved they were not just gate-crashers but worthy underdogs as well with an 88-87 decision of the Magnolia Hotshots on Saturday.
And the upset loss hurt Magnolia all the more with the game’s most decisive basket coming from its former player Alex Mallari, who joined NLEX only last year. Mallari was a member of the San Mig Coffee team that won four straight titles, including a grand slam in 2014. San Mig later became the Star Hotshots and then Magnolia last season.
Mallari capped a 14-point performance coming off the bench with an open three-pointer that gave NLEX the lead to stay at 86-84 with 14 seconds left. Kiefer Ravena then secured the win that avenged the Road Warriors’ 105-94 loss to Magnolia in the elims with two free throws and a steal in the dying seconds.
With the best-of-seven semifinals being played every other day, the Beermen are now heavily favored to reach the finals this week. Game 2 was being played at press time on Sunday night. Game 3 will be this Tuesday and Game 4 on Thursday.
And unless the 7-foot Greg Slaughter recovers from a sprain and returns to action, Ginebra looks doomed with the way SMB sizzled from the quarter courts in Game 1 with little help down low from Fajardo. Led by Arwind Santos and reliever Von Pessumal, the Beermen fired 16 of 34 triples to the Kings’ 5 of 19.
While going for a record four straight All-Filipino title, SMB also wants to avenge the quarterfinal loss to Ginebra in the Governors’ Cup that ruined its Grand Slam drive last year.
The Hotshots, who finished second to the Beermen in the elims, remain a tough foe for the Road Warriors, who will go for a repeat win Monday. Game 3 will be on Wednesday and Game 4 on Friday.
But the knee injury the veteran Marc Pingris suffered midway in the last quarter will be a cause for worry for the Hotshots, who also drew little help from an off-form guard Luke Melton. Pingris was carried out of the game on a stretcher and ended up in a hospital with a suspected anterior cruciate ligament injury.
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