San Miguel Beer, Phoenix take separate roads to a matchup that could prove crucial to both teams’ Final Four hopes
Coach Leo Austria would have wanted a better performance to ride on as his San Miguel Beermen approaches a crucial playdate on their schedule. Especially since their opponent will be entering that matchup on a wave-like momentum of a huge victory.
But Austria, whose squad has won the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Philippine Cup the last five seasons, will take any win that comes if it helps the limping Beermen win the league’s most prestigious trophy a sixth time.
“We’re really avoiding the ties,” Austria told reporters on Tuesday, shortly after San Miguel Beer’s 90-88 overtime victory over Blackwater. “The teams in the middle of the standings, [we took care of]. We beat Alaska, we beat Meralco, and today we beat Blackwater. This means we have a real good chance to make it to the quarterfinals.”
It was not the kind of win the Beermen needed going into a crucial match on Thursday at Angeles University Foundation powered by Smart 5G here at the PBA bubble.
“Next for us is the most important game for us [if we want] to be in the Final Four,” he said. “It’s against Phoenix. And it won’t be easy.”
“[That game will be] the key,” Austria added.
And Phoenix will be going into that match not just fully armed, but high on morale and confidence after a masterful 116-94 rout of tournament doormat Terrafirma in another early morning match inside Smart Clark Giga City.
Abueva showed just how much of a threat he will be to the Beermen. The scrappy forward, returning from a 16-month suspension, submitted a triple-double of 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. He also had three steals against only two turnovers.
“It’s really more of [him] valuing what he has,” said Phoenix coach Topex Robinson, whose squad beefed up its bid for a spot in the Top 4, which offers twice-to-beat protection in the quarterfinals. “Right now, he knows he’s playing on borrowed time.”
The victories of San Miguel and Phoenix were made even more crucial by a TNT team that seems to have steadied itself well after reeling from its first loss in the tournament.
TNT, the side tipped as the likeliest challenger to the title the Beermen have hung on to like a heirloom, stayed on top of the heap following an easy 112-87 ripping of NorthPort.
Ray Parks Jr. scored 22 points and had 10 rebounds and four others tossed in 11 or better for the Tropang Giga, who bounced back from their only loss with aplomb and rose to 6-1, good for a seat in the next round. The Batang Pier dropped to 1-5.
The Beermen are just a game behind the Tropang Giga, although are officially listed at third in the standings because of Rain or Shine’s better percentage. And they will have some momentum of sorts entering the Phoenix matchup.
San Miguel has now won four straight matches in its 5-2 slate.But its struggle to squeeze the most out of a roster orphaned by six-time MVP June Mar Fajardo and hotshot scorer Terrence Romero was evident against the Elite.
The Beermen trailed by four with 2:23 left in the extra period and were rescued by five straight points from Chris Ross, who finished with just 8 points in the match. A layup by Ross gave San Miguel an 89-88 edge. But even then, the Beermen needed two big turnovers from Phoenix and four huge misses to ice the match.
“It was an ugly game,” said Austria, who drew 26 points and 14 rebounds from Mo Tautuaa.
Matthew Wright led Phoenix with 33 points on a highly efficient 61-percent clip from the floor. Wright made half of his 12 three-pointers and drained seven of nine shots inside the arc. Wright also had six assists—Phoenix had 33 dimes in all—and five steals.
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