Answering call to play with pride, Shabazz leads great SMB rally
Down and seemingly out of it on Saturday, San Miguel Beer’s Chris Ross knew just how to light a fire in his teammates.
“I just told the guys ‘Have some effort, have some pride in yourselves,” Ross told a pair of reporters after the thriller at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
And what followed right after was a detonation.
Shabazz Muhammad put up 46 of his 57 points in the final two frames, almost singlehandedly destroying Meralco’s 26-point cushion and ultimately willing his club to a 115-110 victory in the PBA Governors’ Cup that kept the Beermen well within the circle of teams out to get first round playoff bonuses.
“‘You’re wearing a San Miguel jersey and it’s one of the most prestigious teams in PBA history.’ And so the guys responded,” Ross added.
June Mar Fajardo chipped in 16 points that went with 14 rebounds, while Vic Manuel 13 as San Miguel gained outright passage into the playoffs and a chance at snaring a twice-to-beat protection in the quarterfinals after rising to 7-4.
Ross also delivered some key stops down the stretch, clamping down on Meralco import Tony Bishop Jr. that resulted in a pair of turnovers nearing the final horn.
Lighting up the Bolts
However, there was no denying that it was Muhammad—who also had 19 rebounds—who got lit up well and lit it up the most.
“In the third quarter, he was like, ‘We’re gonna win this game, we’re gonna win this game.’ He kept on telling us. I said, ‘I got your back bro, we’ll follow your lead,’” Ross recalled.
“He just showed what kind of import he is. He’s prolific, he’s top 15 pick in the NBA and he played well in the NBA at the time he was in there. Obviously an NBA talent and he showed everybody in the Philippines what he can do,” he added.
“We didn’t want to be in that position. It was tough,” Muhammad said. “You know once my jumper gets on it’s pretty tough to stop me. I was just feeling different tonight. I was just happy we got this win for the team, it was big for us.
“Coach really stressed how hard we need to start playing. We started playing hard I think in that third or fourth quarter and really turned it around and we got a couple of plays down the stretch and everything worked out for us.”
It was also with a dash of irony that Muhammad’s biggest game to date came against the team he was supposed to reinforce this conference.
After missing out on old reliable Allen Durham, Meralco instead set its sights on Muhammad. However, a “personal emergency” prompted the Bolts management to bring in Bishop.
Muhammad was eventually brought in by San Miguel, replacing a tested PBA veteran import in Orlando Johnson.
“It’s crazy that it had to happen like that,” Muhammad said of his performance. “Meralco, they’re a good sport. And I really like playing out here a lot.”
“Right now we’re really happy with the win. I’m now looking forward to the playoffs,” he said.
“I think he’s in a groove now,” Ross said of his teammate. “I just hate that we have to wait a week to play, I wish we could play in like two days so he could keep going.” INQ
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