San Miguel takes another step toward regaining All-Filipino dominance
Driven by pride and fueled by its depth, San Miguel Beer on Thursday applied the broom on NorthPort with a 100-95 Game 2 decision that sent the Beermen back to the PBA Philippine Cup semifinals after being conspicuous absentees last year.
Seven Beermen finished with 11 points or more and it was more than enough to hold off the Batang Pier’s repeated tries at a comeback as San Miguel, the indominable all-Filipino force of the last decade, forged an interesting duel with No. 1 seed TNT.
“Every conference, everybody’s expecting us to do well,” coach Leo Austria said shortly after sweeping the Batang Pier in their best-of-three quarterfinals series at Don Honorio Ventura State University in Bacolor, Pampanga. “That’s the pressure we have to face. That means there’s something about us.”
San Miguel’s new guy, CJ Perez, starred once again, scoring 21 points off the bench that went with four rebounds, two steals and two blocks in the decisive victory that sent NorthPort packing.
“Coach told us just how important winning this game is. It’s San Miguel Corp.’s (SMC) anniversary and it’s been a while since the team made the semifinals,” Perez said.
It’s just been a year, to be exact. And during that time, cornerstone June Mar Fajardo was absent, and Terrence Romeo was sent home due to a dislocated shoulder.
The league’s only six-time Most Valuable Player, Fajardo finished with a double-double of 12 points and 12 boards, while Romeo scored 11 in his first game back since having his knee screened.
San Miguel led by as many as 13 points, and nearly gave up that lead until Marcio Lassiter’s gut punch of a triple with 4:37 left to pluck the Beermen out of harm’s way.
NorthPort got the goods from Greg Slaughter and rookie Jamie Malonzo as the duo can hold their heads high after capping a sterling conference with splendid individual efforts.
Slaughter scored 27 points and the pair combined for 44, nearly half of the team’s total output, plugging the absence of skipper Sean Anthony, who sat out the game after rolling his ankle late in Game 1.
Robert Bolick finished with 14 assists and 12 points as he was hampered by frosty shooting from deep.
San Miguel will now face TNT, with the Beermen looking to draw plenty from their last meeting.
Austria and his charges were the only ones to put a dent to Chot Reyes and his wards’ remarkable run this conference, an 83-67 blowout that snapped a seven-game Tropang Giga streak then.
But that’s ancient history now.
“The semifinals, especially a best-of-seven, is a different story,” said Austria. “[The Tropang Giga] are playing hard, playing beautiful basketball.”
Meanwhile, No. 3 Magnolia completed a two-game sweep of No. 6 Rain or Shine, after a 96-86 victory in the second game. Paul Lee had 24 points while Calvin Abueva chipped in 20 points and 19 rebounds as the Hotshots booked a semifinal date against the winner of the Meralco-NLEX matchup.