3rd SMB grand slam bid up
True to his promise, Chris McCullough rewarded San Miguel Beer with the 2019 Commissioner’s Cup championship that had the TNT KaTropa’s name all over it until he came in with the Beermen on the brink of elimination.
After pinning only the second loss on the KaTropa in the tournament by rallying from 16 points to grab a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven title playoffs, the Beermen wrapped up their second straight championship with a 102-90 victory Friday and gained another shot at a grand slam since 2017.
McCullough was actually outscored in the playoffs by TNT ace Terrence Jones in the rare duel between former first round NBA draftees. But SMB’s desperate replacement for former Best Import Charles Rhodes after a 2-5 start was not outplayed when it mattered most.
With TNT going for a 2-1 lead after Jones was honored as Best Import and Jayson Castro picked as Best Player of the Conference, SMB tied the playoffs as McCullough issued an assist to June Mar Fajardo after firing six straight points to spark a closing 8-5 run that eventually gave SMB a 106-101. Then in Game 5, McCullough unloaded 17 as SMB outshot TNT, 30-14, in the last quarter to win, 99-94, after trailing, 69-85, early in the period.
Jones opened Game 6 with a triple but the Beermen took advantage of the obviously tired KaTropa to forge ahead by 19 points at 63-44. Castro rallied TNT to within 53-65, but Christian Standhardinger, who put up a fine defensive job on Jones in Game 5, spearheaded a strong SMB counter-attack that had Castro acknowledging the futility of it all by committing successive fouls and leaving the game while applauding the enemy with barely three minutes left.
McCullough’s boast of an impending SMB triumph after Game 5 was simply unthinkable considering the Beermen’s struggle at the start after nailing a record fifth straight Philippine Cup. Their miseries included a 36-point (118-82) loss to the Magnolia Hotshots and a 33-point (121-88) setback from the NorthPort Batang Pier.
McCullough debuted with a 47-point job against the NLEX Road Warriors, but the Beermen just managed to reach the quarterfinals with an overall 5-6 record that ranked them as No. 7 with a twice-to-win requirement against the second-ranked Batang Pier to reach the semifinals.
NorthPort found SMB a tough nut to crack in the quarterfinals however, and the Beermen went on to turn back the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters in the semifinals to advance against the KaTropa, who also lost, 4-2, in their title meeting in 2017.
With a runaway collection of 27 titles, SMB now shoots for a third sweep of all three championships in one season which Norman Black pulled off in 1986 and duplicated by Tim Cone with the San Mig Coffee squad in the 2013-20-14.
Coach Leo Austria blew his first grand slam bid in 2017 with SMB getting the boot from sister team Barangay Ginebra in the quarterfinals. Magnolia will try to duplicate Ginebra’s feat as defending Governors’ Cup champion but the Beermen will be tougher this time with Standhardinger and Terrence Romeo, the Commissioner’s Cup Finals MVP, now in their lineup.
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