PBA: Beermen clinch 2nd seed with come-from-behind win over Air21
MANILA, Philippines - The San Miguel Beermen passed another test of character on Wednesday, April 16 as they pulled the rug from underneath the Air21 Express by way of a 93-85 victory to finish the eliminations at second place and clinch the all-important twice-to-beat edge in the 2014 PLDT Home TVolution Commissioner's Cup.
However, that 8-point win was definitely no indication of how the game was played for the first 36 minutes, as the Beermen played off target.
In fact, the Express sat comfortably in the driver's seat starting at halftime when they led 39-35. They then went on a 33-point explosion in the third courtesy of hustle plays and defensive gems in nearly every possession.
Air21 forced San Miguel to 6 turnovers in that period alone and owned them in rebounding, 12-6, on their way to ending the third with a double-digit lead, 72-55.
Little did they know, the indefatigable Beermen would climb out of the trenches with a massive 25-6 run in the final frame, capped off by a go-ahead triple by import Kevin Jones a couple of steps from the arc.
That run was sparked by last conference's Best Player, June Mar Fajardo, scoring 6 points under the first 3 minutes of the last quarter to cut the deficit to 66-74.
His teammates followed his lead as Air21's once imposing lead whittled down to a hair, 77-78, on two free throws by Arwind Santos with over 4 minutes remaining.
"We really struggled shooting," admitted San Miguel active consultant Todd Purves as his team shot only 33.9% after the first 3 quarters.
"I thought we had great looks early in the game and we missed shots we would normally make. That being said, you can't let a poor shooting night affect the other things you do in a game. You can still get wins despite shooting poorly."
The Beermen, who was on a tear in the last 12 minutes of the ball game, bested their 35-point first half output with 38 points, and forced Air21 to 8 fourth quarter miscues, as the Express felt the pang of yet another sorry loss after leading by a huge margin.
According to PBA Head Statistician Fidel Mangonon III, that 38-point fourth quarter output by San Miguel was the second most by any team this conference and second only to Air21's previous slayers, the Meralco Bolts (41 points in the fourth), who climbed from 20-points down en route to a similar come-from-behind win.
Jones led the Beermen with 19 points and 14 rebounds as Santos trailed him closely with 18 points along with 7 boards, 3 assists and two steals.
Marcio Lassiter added 17 markers and Fajardo had 15 points with 11 rebounds.
For Air21, import Wesley Witherspoon dropped 27 points, while Sean Anthony, who has carried over his steady play to this new team, finished with 14 points.
The Express are now sitting at 8th place with a 3-6 slate.
Meanwhile, at 7-2, sitting at second place and armed with a twice-to-beat edge, San Miguel surely remembers the last time it was there - during the 2013 Governors' Cup, where they ended the eliminations at 8-1 atop the standings. They eventually lost to San Mig Coffee in the Finals of that conference.
But months removed from that, huddled together, standing at center court of the Smart Araneta Coliseum, the Beermen know they are in familiar territory once again as one of the top two teams ending the elimination round.
This time, with an old yet new name, this new batch of Beermen hopes to write a different, definitely happier ending.
San Miguel Beer (93) - Jones 19, Santos 18, Lassiter 17, Fajardo 15, Ross 9, Maierhofer 5, Tubid 4, Hubalde 4, Kramer 2, Lanete 0, Lutz 0.
Air21 (85): Witherspoon 27, Anthony 14, Camson 12, Taulava 9, Yeo 7, Cardona 7, Poligrates 4, Villanueva 2, Ramos 2, Burtscher 1, Borboran 0.
Quarter scores: 19-16, 35-39, 55-72, 93-85.