San Miguel uses back-breaking fourth quarter to rip TNT and become PH Cup king once again
The climb back to the PBA mountaintop was long and hard, but the San Miguel Beermen on Sunday accomplished what they had been chasing for the last three years.
Behind remnants of the “Death Five” and talents coming from numerous acquisitions, the Beermen once again became champions of the PBA Philippine Cup after dropping the hammer, 119-97, on a depleted TNT Tropang Giga side that refused to fold up in Game 7 despite being weighed down by heavy odds.
Making good on his promise to exceed what he had done the previous game, CJ Perez came through when it mattered and finally had his first-ever championship that sealed San Miguel’s first taste of glory since the 2019 Commissioner’s Cup.
“I never thought we would win another championship,” said coach Leo Austria following his sixth All-Filipino title and ninth overall that put him in a tie for fourth all-time with ex-Beermen mentor Jong Uichico and Tropang Giga counterpart Chot Reyes.
“I told the team that this is an opportunity that we cannot waste,” Austria, who also tied with Reyes for the most PH Cup titles, added. “I saw in the body language of the players that they really want to win.”
Reyes was not around for the finale, a positive COVID-19 test preventing him from doing so. But TNT’s refusal to quit led by a hobbling Jayson Castro made the game a seesaw affair before the Tropang Giga ran out of gas in the fourth with Perez leading the San Miguel breakaway.
After enduring plenty of struggles as the star of the Terrafirma franchise, Perez became a major cog in the title run as his seven points in a pivotal 17-0 run enabled San Miguel to turn what was an 89-84 deficit at the end of the third into a big lead that it sustained until the confetti rained the Big Dome floor.
His 25-point performance backed up another stellar effort from June Mar Fajardo, who was later named the Honda PBA Press Corps Finals Most Valuable Player.
Their combined brilliance, along with timely shots from Marcio Lassiter and Chris Ross—whose two long treys made it a 116-94 lead nearing the homestretch— put San Miguel back to the throne as kingpin of the PBA’s most prestigious conference.
Following a run of eight titles under Austria between 2014 to 2019, including five straight Philippine Cup triumphs, San Miguel struggled to get back at the summit which prompted changes in the roster.The number of moves eventually paid dividends as San Miguel hopes to make its 28th championship as a springboard to create another era of success for the PBA’s last charter member.
Fight to the end
For TNT, a chance to repeat as Philippine Cup winner fell short despite a 3-2 lead, but not without a fight.
Castro, battling a sprained ankle sustained in Game 5, led a fiery TNT third-quarter comeback from a 66-55 halftime deficit, scoring 19 of his 32 in that juncture.
TNT even went up, 89-84, on RR Pogoy’s shot to end the third, but found the wrong time to suffer a shooting slump.
But the Beermen took no prisoners in the payoff frame, starving the Tropang Giga to eight measly points in the stretch to carve out the win.
Not only was Castro hobbling and Reyes not even allowed to enter the coliseum, but the Tropang Giga also lost center Poy Erram late in the second quarter for an elbow that bloodied Mo Tautuaa.
San Miguel started the season with nothing but reclaiming the PH Cup in mind, as what Austria told the Inquirer a week before the curtains were raised on the 48th Season.The entire San Miguel starting five finished in twin digits, with Simon Enciso and Tautuaa coming off the bench to shoot 12 and 13, respectively.
Mikey Williams, after scoring 19 points in the first half, struggled to just three more in the final two periods. INQ