Bolts, Beermen clash in no-tomorrow Game 7
The great escape fashioned out three nights earlier will be a source of motivation for the Meralco Bolts in their bid to set up a rare family feud for a PBA championship.
For the San Miguel Beermen, a chance to redeem themselves from the epic meltdown is something they don’t want to waste.
Their Philippine Cup semifinal series comes to a close with a Game 7 set at 6 p.m. on Wednesday at Smart Araneta Coliseum, and a sprinkling of physicality and late drama like in the previous six games is very likely.
Both teams reached the deciding game of the best-of-seven affair after Meralco, four minutes from elimination, went on an incredible comeback led by Aaron Black to stun San Miguel, 96-92, last Sunday.
It will be another do-or-die playoff for the Bolts, who in the quarterfinals survived Barangay Ginebra and its legion of fans with a hard-fought Game 3 victory last July 31 at Mall of Asia Arena.
“It’s not going to be any easier against San Miguel,” said Bolts coach Norman Black, who will try and steer the franchise to their first-ever All-Filipino Finals.
“We were this close to making the finals of the All-Filipino one time before (in the deciding Game 5 of the 2020 edition) when we lost to Ginebra at the buzzer via Scottie’s (Thompson) three-point shot. So now we have another chance,” said Black.
“It’s a big step for our franchise and now we just have to dig a little bit deeper to try to get there because we’re up against a tough team.”
A win sets up a date with sister team TNT, which was the first to reach the climax of the season-opening conference when it beat Magnolia in the other semifinal, 4-2.
The league has not seen a championship battle pitting teams under Manny V. Pangilinan (MVP) Group.
The first sister team finale was between Toyota and Filmanbank in the 1978 All-Filipino, even as 10 title series were contested by San Miguel Corp. (SMC) squads since then.
San Miguel, however, will look to spoil that possibility and arrange another SMC-MVP title showdown for the fifth straight conference, and the Beermen are aching to get their acts together for the decider after failing to close out the Bolts despite a 10-point lead late in the fourth.
“It’s sad because we had it (Finals berth), [right there],” said San Miguel center June Mar Fajardo in Filipino. “But that’s part of the game, and we need to move on. We still have one more game left and we have to bounce back.”
Fajardo will again be the primary focus of both teams, with San Miguel looking to make most of his play in the shaded lane and Meralco looking to throw everything it can to make stops.
But San Miguel’s talent-laden roster showed in Game 6 that it is more than just Fajardo, with coach Leo Austria expected to rely on veterans Marcio Lassiter and Chris Ross, fixtures from past championship runs.
The likes of CJ Perez, Jericho Cruz, Mo Tautuaa and Rodney Brondial will also try to send the Beermen to their first Finals appearance since winning the 2019 Commissioner’s Cup and restore a winning tradition that has been an all-Filipino norm since Austria was tapped to call the shots.
Meralco is also not just a one-man crew, with Aaron Black, Chris Newsome, Raymond Almazan, Cliff Hodge, Allein Maliksi, Bong Quinto, Chris Banchero, Kyle Pascual and maybe even Reynel Hugnatan out to have an imprint in the contest.
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