By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE San Miguel Beermen staved off being outright dethroned as PBA Philippine Cup champions on Sunday after beating the Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok, 98-86, in Game Six of their best-of-seven finals to force a sudden-death match.
Needing to win to stay alive in the series, the Beermen played with a lot of drive right from the start to notch the win and force a deciding Game Seven for the Philippine Basketball Association All-Filipino title on Wednesday also at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Chris Ross, June Mar Fajardo and Marcio Lassiter led the steady San Miguel attack on their way to levelling the series at 3-3.
The Beermen took control right from the get-go on the hot shooting of Mr. Ross from downtown.
They held a 25-12 lead at the end of the first canto and stretched it to a 21-point separation, 37-16 in the early goings of the second frame.
Magnolia tried to claw its way back behind big men Ian Sangalang and Rafi Reavis, coming to within 10 points a couple of times.
But San Miguel would hang tough, continuing to hold sway, 50-36, by the halftime break.
In the third quarter it was Magnolia’s turn to have it strong.
Led by guards Jio Jalalon and Paul Lee, the Hotshots hounded the Beermen to narrow the gap, 68-62, heading into the final quarter.
Jolted, the Beermen opened the final canto on firmer footing, speeding with a 14-1 run in the first three minutes to build a 19-point lead, 82-63.
Magnolia tried to regain some lost real estate after but Mr. Fajardo and Arwind Santos did not allow much slippage by the Beermen.
It was a 21-point lead by San Miguel, 90-69, with five minutes remaining in the game.
The Beermen continued to control the match, 98-80, with two minutes left and never looked back from there.
Mr. Fajardo led San Miguel with 23 points and 18 rebounds with Marcio Lassiter adding 20 points.
Mr. Ross had 17 points while Christian Standhardinger finished with 16 points.
For Magnolia it was Mr. Jalalon who top-scored with 17 points with Mr. Sangalang adding 14.
“We are very thankful to be able to level the series. I think key for us in this game was our defense, especially by our second unit. Hopefully we can continue it in the rubber match,” said San Miguel coach Leo Austria.