MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The force came late in the first quarter. It was powerful, overwhelming, intimidating, and exactly what the San Miguel Beermen used to finally clinch the franchise's first PBA Commissioner's Cup title in 17 years.
The Beermen went on to build a 20-point first half lead that culminated in a hard-won 115-91 Game 6 triumph over the TNT KaTropa on Sunday, July 2, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
San Miguel came out and simply refused to give TNT even a tiny bit of hope of extending the best-of-7 series to a deciding Game 7.
Guard Alex Cabagnot won his first Finals MVP honor after averages of 20.3 points, 5.8 assists, 8.0 rebounds, and 1.3 steals in the series.
In Game 6 he put up a triple-double effort of 19 points, 11 assists, and 12 rebounds to go with 3 steals.
Cabagnot, who was in the running for this conference's Best Player award, became the first local player to reach a triple-double in a finals game since guard Willie Miller in the 2005 Philippine Cup when Miller was with Talk ’N Text, according to the league’s chief statistician Fidel Mangonon III.
The conference's Best Import Charles Rhodes had a game-high 30 points to go with 11 rebounds, 3 assists, and 4 blocks. Marcio Lassiter shot 5-of-13 from deep for 24 points on top of 5 boards and 4 dimes.
Arwind Santos had 17 markers and 7 boards off the bench as Chris Ross asserted himself anew for 14 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals.
The Beermen shot 51% from the field and 41% from beyond the arc. They out-rebounded the KaTropa, 51-41, and led by as many as 29 points in the fourth.
The closest TNT came was 13 points, 68-55, after a booming RR Pogoy triple in a moment that seemed like they would finally seize some much-needed momentum coming off the break.
But Ross responded with an and-one play and Cabagnot added another bucket to stop the KaTropa in their tracks.
Troy Rosario emerged as TNT's leading scorer with 21 points and 5 rebounds, while Pogoy put in 16 markers on 7-of-14 shooting.
Import Joshua Smith was shackled to only 15 points with 6 rebounds, with the Beermen getting more and more comfortable with their faster small ball lineup sans 3-time MVP center June Mar Fajardo, who had a quiet two points playing under 14 minutes and attempting 3 field goals.
Jayson Castro, Asia's best point guard, was neutralized from the beginning as TNT failed to respond to San Miguel's aggression early on. He had only 13 points and 6 rebounds.
The KaTropa's bench was outscored by 17-8 in the first half – a telling indicator of a change in the wind given that SMB normally relies on its starters, while TNT has more depth.
TNT also struggled with an offensive flow with a 15-3 first half deficit in assists. They never made much headway in the second half, finishing with just 12 assists total as opposed to San Miguel's 24.
Eyeing the Grand Slam
This is the Beermen's 5th championship in 3 seasons or since coach Leo Austria took over in 2015, and the franchise's 24th overall.
Now, with this season's Philippine Cup title also in the bag, this dominant team of the last 3 years can finally seriously talk about its Grand Slam aspirations.
This era of San Miguel Beermen basketball has perpetually been pegged to achieve that rare feat of winning all 3 titles in a single season. But every time they would win one, a second straight seemed to elude them, quieting down such talk. This time, they can be vocal about it as they look to the season-ending Governors' Cup.
The franchise already won a Grand Slam during the era of coach Norman Black in 1989.
For TNT, this is rookie coach Nash Racela's first loss in his PBA Finals debut.
After starting off the series with a victory, the KaTropa dropped two straight and leveled the series before a convincing Game 5 victory pushed them to the brink of elimination.
San Miguel (115): Rhodes 30, Lassiter 24, Cabagnot 19, Santos 17, Ross 14, Espinas 5, Semerad 4, Fajardo 2, Agovida 0, Heruela 0, McCarthy 0, Van Opstal 0, De Ocampo 0.
TNT (91): Rosario 21, Pogoy 16, Smith 15, Castro 13, De Ocampo 7, Garcia 7, Tautuaa 4, Williams 4, Rosales 2, Semerad 2, Reyes 0.
Quarter scores: 37-26, 62-42, 94-69, 115-91.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story said that this is San Miguel's first-ever Commissioner's Cup title. We have corrected this to the franchise's first Commissioner's Cup championship in 17 years.