MANILA, Philippines – This time around, it was San Miguel who made the late-game rally as they overhauled a double-digit fourth quarter deficit to stun the Alaska Aces, 110-104, in overtime of Game 4 and avert a sweep in the PBA Philippine Cup Finals Sunday at a jampacked PhilSports Arena in Pasig City.
Alaska and its fans were on the verge of a celebration after the Aces took an 84-71 lead with 8:35 to go, and a 93-82 advantage with 3:29 remaining. But the Beermen had other ideas, as they slowly but surely chipped into the deficit, getting contributions from several players including Arwind Santos, Marcio Lassiter, Chris Ross, and Gabby Espinas.
Cyrus Baguio drained a three-pointer to beat the buzzer that sent the game into overtime, and a hook shot and two free throws by Vic Manuel gave the Aces a 102-98 advantage with 3:45 left in the extra session.
It was all San Miguel from that point on, however. Ross got back-to-back lay-ups, and Alex Cabagnot then made up for an earlier miscue by hitting the go-ahead three-pointer with 1:52 to go. Yancy de Ocampo, who came into the game early into the overtime period after Espinas fouled out, hit the proverbial dagger when he beat the shotclock with a clutch jumper that made it 107-102 with 1:16 remaining.
"This is what we were waiting for – to get a lot of breaks in the end game," SMB head coach Leo Austria said after his team completed a come-from-behind victory.
"I have to credit the players. They accepted the challenge, they didn't want to be swept. This gives us some space to breathe, and I think in the next game, we can focus again. You can never know what will happen, and I said before the game, a miracle is just around the corner," he added.
On the day that injured franchise center June Mar Fajardo accepted his fourth Best Player of the Conference trophy, his teammates submitted a gutsy effort to get their first win of the Finals after three straight losses to make it 3-1, and avoid becoming the first defending champion in PBA history to be swept.
(READ: Injured Fajardo All-Filipino Best Player for third time in a row)
Lassiter scored 26 points, Espinas had 21 points and 12 rebounds, while Santos had 11 points and 12 boards as he made up for errors and poor shots early in the game with clutch baskets and defensive stops.
Ross came up just short of a triple-double with 11 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists while harassing the Alaska point guards when San Miguel made their run late in the fourth quarter.
"Our players didn't give up," Austria stressed. "Nag-all out sila. Nakita natin 'yung heart of a champion."
Down 82-93 with 3:29 remaining, San Miguel went on to score 14 unanswered points to work their way back in the game. Santos got the run started with a lay-up off a Ross assist and then scored the go-ahead shot with 28 seconds to go when he tipped in his own miss to make it 94-93.
Two free throws by Ronald Tubid made it 96-93 with 19.8 remaining, and Alaska's Calvin Abueva cut the lead with a lay-up that made it 95-96, 16.2 seconds still left to play.
Santos missed two free throws off a duty foul by Abueva, but Ross was there for the rebound and coolly made two clutch charities.
Alaska still had 4.5 seconds left, however, and Cyrus Baguio drained a cold-blooded three-pointer that sent the game into overtime.
Manuel, who barely saw the ball in the fourth quarter, scored the first bucket of OT and added two free throws for a 102-98 lead, but his charities turned out to be Alaska's last meaningful points of the game as the Beermen took control from that point.
"San Miguel showed exactly what I thought was in their character tonight. They fought hard," a visibly disappointed Alex Compton said after the game. "I can't say for sure because I didn't see a celebration, but I don't think our focus stayed during that time."
"We gave them too many lay-ups and easy shots, and we missed some bunnies too. But it's really a testament to their character. They played great, they really did. They deserved to win," he said.
Manuel finished with a team high 20 points and 13 boards, making seven of his 13 shots as he continued his exceptional play in the Finals. Abueva and Dondon Hontiveros each scored 14 points, but fouled out before the extra period.
Both San Miguel and Alaska shot 35% from the field, but the Aces committed 21 turnovers while the Beermen only had 11. San Miguel also had a slim advantage in rebounding, 68-67, despite continuing to miss the services of Fajardo. The Beermen also shot 46 free throws, making 34 of them; Alaska was 26 of 30 from the line.
Game 5 of the Finals is set for Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum.
SMB 110 - Lassiter 26, Espinas 21, Cabagnot 16, Ross 11, Santos 11, Tubid 8, De Ocampo 6, Lutz 4, Reyes 4, Heruela 3, Arana 0, Semerad 0.
Alaska 104 - Manuel 20, Abueva 14, Hontiveros 14, Casio 13, Banchero 12, Baguio 11, Thoss 9, Exciminiano 5, Jazul 4, Baclao 2, Dela Rosa 0.
Quarter-scores: 20-28, 43-49, 69-77, 98-98, 110-104
(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.)