By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE San Miguel Beermen are one win away from the Philippine Basketball Association Commissioner’s Cup title after taking a 3-2 lead over the TNT KaTropa in their best-of-seven finals series with a 99-94 victory in Game Five on Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Showing much resilience, the Beermen fought hard to stay in the game amid a spirited showing from the KaTropa and gave themselves a shot to win in the end, which eventually paid off.
The win pushed San Miguel to a win away from winning its second PBA title this season.
The opening half of the contest was highlighted by the “Battle of the Terrences.”
Import Terrence Jones got it going in the first quarter, finding his shot from different directions to lead the KaTropa to a 28-22 lead at the end of the first 12 minutes.
TNT continued to dictate the pace of the game in the second frame, racing to an 11-point lead, 47-36, with 3:19 to go.
But the Beermen would charge back on the lead of guard Terrence Romeo.
They went on a 9-0 blast in the next two minutes to come within two points, 47-45.
TNT, however, survived the San Miguel onslaught and remained on top, 49-45, at the half.
San Miguel tried to build on the momentum it got from the second period and crowded TNT at the start of the third.
The KaTropa though kept their opponents at bay, staying ahead, 67-59, by the five-minute mark.
They maintained a safe distance the rest of the period as Mr. Jones continued to assert himself, holding an 80-69 lead heading into final canto.
Sensing the tide in their favor, the KaTropa opened the fourth quarter with a 5-0 blast to stretch their lead to 16 points, 85-69, with 10:39 to go.
San Miguel got some footing back, narrowing the gap to seven points, 85-78, by the 7:24 mark.
The Beermen kept the pressure on the KaTropa with import Chris McCullough leading the charge back, fighting their way to within 90-87 with 4:45 remaining.
Jayson Castro gave TNT more breathing space, 93-87, with a triple 30 seconds later.
The Beermen stayed within striking distance, down by just three points, 94-91, entering the last two minutes.
Two made free throws by Mr. McCullough with 1:46 left made it a one-point game, 94-93.
TNT had several chances to add on to its lead after but could not capitalize on them.
San Miguel got the ball back and called time out with 33 ticks left.
Off the ceasefire, the Beermen went to Mr. McCullough who scored on a lay-up with 26 seconds remaining to hand the lead to his team, 95-94.
TNT called timeout and set up a play for Mr. Jones.
But the TNT import missed his layup, forcing the KaTropa to foul Mr. McCullough with 13 seconds left.
The San Miguel import scored a deuce anew from the charity stripe to make it a three-point lead, 97-94, in their favor.
TNT tried to get back in the game but the three-point attempt of Troy Rosario failed to hit the mark.
Two made free throws by Chris Ross after put the game away for the Beermen.
Mr. McCullough had 35 points and 22 rebounds for San Miguel with Mr. Romeo adding 22 points.
June Mar Fajardo finished with 16 points and 11 boards.
For TNT it was Mr. Jones who led with 35 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists.
Messrs. Castro and Rosario followed with 18 and 16 points, respectively.
“Thank God for this win. I like to commend the players for accepting the roles they were given and played them well. Our import just did not give up and kept his composure to lead us to the win,” said San Miguel coach Leo Austria after their victory.
Game Six of the finals is on Friday also at the Big Dome.