By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE stranglehold of the San Miguel Beermen on the prestigious PBA Philippine Cup title continued as they won their fifth straight All-Filipino crown by outlasting the Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok, 72-71, in their Game Seven decider on Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Struggled in the early goings of the contest, the Beermen fought their way back in the second half, relying on their collective championship experience, to claim another Philippine Basketball Association All-Filipino title and their 26th PBA championship overall.
San Miguel opened the game with a 7-0 blast with June Mar Fajardo and Arwind Santos conspiring to give their team a boost.
After that, however, the Beermen would struggle and saw the Hotshots take advantage of it, racing to a 24-13 blast, led by Ian Sangalang, the rest of the opening quarter to go on top, 24-20.
In the second quarter, things turned for the worse for the Beermen as their offensive woes continued.
Managing to put just five points, San Miguel was buried deeper, 38-25, by the halftime break.
Mark Barroca got the Hotshots to a good start in the third period, firing five straight points to extend their lead to 17 points, 43-26.
But San Miguel would answer with seven straight points to narrow the gap, 43-33, with 8:15 to go in the frame.
The Beermen kept inching their way, coming to within six points, 49-43, with under three minutes to go.
Magnolia, however, found ways to keep San Miguel at bay on its way to a 58-50 lead heading into the final canto.
Down to the last 12 minutes, the Beermen came out charging to begin the fourth period.
Led by the veteran backcourt of Alex Cabagnot and Chris Ross, they overhauled Magnolia’s lead, 62-61, in the first five minutes after a layup from Mr. Santos.
The two teams went back-and-forth after, exchanging big baskets after big baskets.
The score was at 69-68, and the Hotshots on top, at the 3:26 mark.
Magnolia continued to hold sway, 71-70, with two minutes left to play.
Mr. Cabagnot then gave the lead to the Beermen, 72-71, with 57 seconds left off a fadeaway jumper under duress.
The Hotshots tried to reclaim the upper hand after but the short stab at the basket by Mr. Sangalang failed to connect.
A scramble for the ball ensued after that led to an out-of-bounds play. After review, Magnolia got back ball possession with 37 ticks left.
Magnolia set up a play to score but was unsuccessful anew with Jio Jalalon’s jumper not finding the mark.
Mr. Fajardo got the offensive rebound and the Beermen sued for time with 18 seconds remaining.
Off an inbounds play, however, San Miguel lost the ball, sending the possession back to Magnolia with just a second shedding from the game clock.
The Hotshots called timeout to regroup and craft their play.
They went to Paul Lee for the go-ahead basket but the San Miguel defense was ready, forcing the Magnolia guard to drop off to Mr. Jalalon who missed his shot.
Mr. Fajardo collared the rebound after which he was fouled.
The San Miguel big man missed both his free throws, giving Magnolia a chance to tie or win the game.
Mr. Lee, however, was not able to get a clear path to heave a desperation shot as time expired, sending the Beermen and their supporters to celebration.
Mr. Cabagnot led San Miguel with 18 points with Mr. Fajardo finishing with 17 points and 31 rebounds. Mr. Santos also had 17 points.
For Magnolia, it was Mr. Sangalang who showed the way with 18 points with Mr. Lee and Rafi Reavis adding 11 points each.
“It was extremely difficult. We went back-and forth and Magnolia put up a tough fight. Our camaraderie did it for us. We won it collectively as a group. We are just thankful,” said Mr. Cabagnot, named player of the game.
The latest title is the ninth Philippine Cup title for the Beermen.