By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE best-of-seven Philippine Basketball Association Commissioner’s Cup finals series between the San Miguel Beermen and TNT KaTropa is now tied at two games apiece after the former hacked out a 106-101 victory in Game Four on Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
San Miguel used a strong push late in the third period to build enough cushion and held on tight down the stretch to get back in the series, which is now down to a best-of-three affair.
The first quarter of the contest was marked by a game of runs early before the Beermen made a late strong push to create a 31-22 separation by the end of the opening 12 minutes.
In the second period, Jayson Castro and Terrence Jones jolted the KaTropa to a 7-0 run in the first 12 minutes to come to within two points, 31-29.
San Miguel, however, survived the onslaught and continued to lead, 39-34, with six minutes to go behind import Chris McCullough.
But TNT kept coming, managing to tie the count at 45-all at the 3:18 mark after a dunk by Mr. Jones.
The KaTropa eventually completed the turnaround as the half drew to a close, up by a point, 52-51.
Another jostling took place in the early goings of the third canto, with TNT slightly ahead, 65-64, at the 5:44 mark.
The Beermen then called June Mar Fajardo’s number, going on a 12-0 blast in the next three minutes to push ahead, 76-65.
It was a swing that San Miguel would use to build an 82-69 advantage heading into the fourth frame.
TNT made attempts to get some real estate back to begin the final quarter but San Miguel continued to hold sway, 90-81, midway into the quarter.
But the KaTropa stayed within striking distance, 96-92, with two minutes remaining.
A putback by Mr. McCullough with 1:42 made it a six-point lead for the Beermen, 98-92.
Mr. Jones got back the two points 16 seconds later, 98-94.
The TNT import further pushed his team closer, 98-96, with two made free throws with 40 ticks remaining.
But Mr. Fajardo gave San Miguel more breathing space, 100-96, with a basket in the paint with 27 seconds to go.
TNT sued for time after to set up a play but Mr. Castro turned the ball over which Alex Cabagnot made them pay for with two points from the charity stripe to make it 102-96 with 16 seconds left.
A triple by Troy Rosario with 10 seconds remaining made it 102-99.
Mr. Cabagnot was sent to the free- throw line anew and made two points to stretch its lead, 104-99.
Mr. Jones scored off a drive to push TNT to within three points, 104-101.
But two free throws by Chris Ross after put the game away for San Miguel.
Mr. McCullough had another 20-20, finishing with 27 points and 22 rebounds to go along with four assists.
Mr. Cabagnot had 25 points while Mr. Fajardo tallied 22 markers.
Mr. Jones, meanwhile, was the high point man for TNT with 32 points on top 16 boards, six assists and six steals.
Mr. Rosario had 24 points and eight rebounds while Mr. Castro had 17 markers, eight rebounds and eight assists.
“Thank God for this win. It was an important game for us because we did not want to fall behind, 3-1, in the series. So salute to the players for getting this win,” said San Miguel coach Leo Austria after the game.
He was quick to say though that it was not easy playing TNT and they have to say on top of their game moving forward.
Game Five of the series is on Wednesday, Aug. 14, also at the Big Dome.
Meanwhile prior to the game, the top individual awards for the tournament were handed out.
TNT’s Jones was named best import of the conference, beating San Miguel’s McCullough, Barangay Ginebra’s Justin Brownlee and Rain or Shine’s Carl Montgomery.
Mr. Jones became the third best import awardee for the TNT franchise, joining Silas Mills (Governors’ Cup, 1998), Jerald Honeycutt (Commissioner’s Cup, 2002, and Fiesta Cup, 2004), and Richard Howell (Commissioner’s Cup, 2013).
Best player of the conference, meanwhile, is Mr. Jones’s teammate Castro.
The Gilas Pilipinas veteran won the award over San Miguel’s Fajardo, Blackwater’s Ray Parks, Jr., Northport’s Robert Bolick and Columbian’s CJ Perez.
The BPC award is the fifth for Mr. Castro.