San Miguel Beer started out hot and then leaned on its poise in the stretch to nip No. 2 NorthPort, 90-88, and tab the second Final Four slot in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup on Wednesday night at Smart Araneta Coliseum in Cubao.
“We thought it was going to be easy to beat them,” coach Leo Austria said after surviving a dizzying final 33 seconds where the Batang Pier, down 14 at one point, held a two-point edge.
“We’re lucky we got all the breaks—especially in the final three possessions,” he added.
After overturning a twice-to-win handicap against the Batang Pier, San Miguel thus became the second team after Barangay Ginebra to make the semifinals.
The Gin Kings swept their best-of-three series against Magnolia with conviction, posting a 106-80 win on Tuesday night.
TNT forged a semifinal showdown with the Gin Kings after finally knocking out eighth-seeded Alaska, 104-93, in the second game.
Forced to cash in their twice-to-beat incentive after getting mauled in Game 1, the top-seeded KaTropa rallied from 15 down in the first half behind Terrence Jones’ 37 points and 22 rebounds.
TNT’s locals also stepped up in the knockout match with Troy Rosario adding 20 points, Jayson Castro contributing 17 and Don Trollano chipping in 14.
Import Chris McCullough, who joined the Beermen late in the conference in a bid to salvage their bid for a Triple Crown sweep, had team-highs of 31 points and 11 rebounds for the reigning all-Filipino champions.
McCullough, the former first-round pick in the NBA who replaced Charles Rhodes, hit a tough layup with 26 seconds remaining to give San Miguel the lead. He then went on to pluck down a crucial rebound that eventually sent him to the stripe to ice the count.
“We [have been] struggling since the start of the conference. I’m just glad that we made it to the semifinals, despite just landing in seventh place after the elimination,” Austria said.
Arwind Santos hit a clutch three late and finished with 10 for the Beermen.
NorthPort drew 22 points from Garvo Lanete, with Mo Tautuaa shooting 20, though he muffed an open triple try late that would’ve swung momentum back to their side.
Rookie Robert Bolick tossed in 13 and had the ball in his hands near the final buzzer. He tried putting up a desperation heave to beat the clock but the Beermen played him tough.
The Beermen will face either Blackwater or Rain or Shine in the semifinals.