MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATED) The San Miguel Beermen got the job done on Sunday, as for the third season in a row, they proved themselves to be the best all-Filipino squad in the land.
The Beermen held off a late charge by the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings to take Game 5, 91-85, and wrap up the best-of-seven PBA Philippine Cup Finals series in front of a mammoth crowd of 20,217 fans at the Araneta Coliseum.
After winning Game 4 last Friday, the Beermen had three chances to close out the Gin Kings, but they showed that one chance was all they needed to secure a third consecutive Philippine Cup championship, and thus fulfill their longstanding dream of hoisting the Perpetual Trophy.
As they had done all throughout the conference, San Miguel leaned on their remarkable starting five, with June Mar Fajardo living up to his billing as Best Player of the Conference with 21 points, including a clutch lay-up inside the final two minutes of the game. Arwind Santos also had 21 points, and his five triples of the game helped the Beermen establish a double-digit lead, and then keep Ginebra at bay.
Alex Cabagnot had 18 points, Marcio Lassiter added 12 markers, but it was point guard Chris Ross who made the most impact on the game with a truly incredible effort of 12 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds, and six steals.
Ross was named Finals MVP of series, the second straight All-Filipino Cup that he has earned the honor.
"This team is all about sacrifice," Ross said. "Arwind was an MVP; when June Mar came in, he moved to the backseat. Alex moved to the two-spot, and Marcio can do more damage but he sticks to his role. June Mar could be scoring 30 points per game. (But) this team is all about sacrifice, and that's how you win three straight championships."
"This is the highlight of my career," said SMB head coach Leo Austria, who has now won four championships with the Beermen. "It's hard to win three championships in the All-Filipino."
San Miguel is only the second team in league history, aside from Talk 'N Text, to have won three consecutive All-Filipino titles.
'Never say die'
After a back-and-forth beginning, the Beermen pulled away late in the second quarter, with Cabagnot's three-pointer giving them a 10-point cushion, 51-41, at the halftime break.
Yet Ginebra lived up to their mantra of "never say die," as Joe Devance engineered a third-quarter turnaround that helped the Gin Kings trim the double-digit deficit into a more manageable one heading into the final frame.
Their hard work on the glass helped the Gin Kings get back in the game, as they fended off San Miguel players for offensive rebounds and putbacks. Mark Caguioa, who entered the contest to a huge ovation late in the third, scored a floater off an assist by Tenorio to make it a one-possession game, 61-63, going into the fourth quarter.
But San Miguel simply had an answer every time Ginebra got too close for comfort. Fajardo opened the fourth quarter with an and-1 to make it 66-61, and after a couple of free throws by Sol Mercado, Lassiter drained a pull-up jumper for a 68-62 lead.
Mercado willed Ginebra back into the contest, nailing a lay-up off a gorgeous feed from Devance, and then knocking down a three-pointer. His two charities off a Ronald Tubid foul made it a one-point game, 70-69, with still 8:39 left to play.
Ross comes through
With the Gin Kings threatening to snatch the lead, and with their legion of fans overpowering the SMB contingent, the Beermen displayed the poise and composure that led them to back-to-back All-Filipino crowns.
Off a timeout, Lassiter nailed a triple, and Ross stripped Devance for a steal and threw a perfect outlet pass for Cabagnot who scored the transition bucket.
Mercado knocked down another trifecta to make it a three-point game, 75-72, but Ross simply refused to lose. After a Fajardo lay-up, Ross came away with another steal that led to two more free throws for the "Kraken," and he intercepted yet another Ginebra pass for a Santos lay-up on the break.
Santos' last bucket made it 81-72 for San Miguel, and temporarily silenced the Ginebra crowd with still 5:15 left to play in the game. The Gin Kings, however, rallied anew, this time behind LA Tenorio, whose three-pointer sparked an 11-3 run that made it a one-point game, 83-84, with just 2:25 left to play.
Tenorio capped the run with a booming three-pointer, but it turned out to be Ginebra's last meaningful basket of the game. Fajardo converted a clutch lay-up with 1:47 left, and Ross put the finishing touches on his performance with a tip-in of a missed shot by Cabagnot with 47 seconds to go.
"We displayed our team defense in the last two minutes, and that's very crucial in this championship," said Austria.
The coach paid special praise to Ross, who averaged 17.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 9.2 assists per game in the five-game series.
"He is a fighter," Austria said of Ross. "He has a lot of things to prove. Makikita mo sa kanya, he keeps on telling me, 'Coach, we will win.' Once na narinig ko sa kanya 'yun, I'm confident."
Austria also lauded the Gin Kings for their "gallant effort," as Ginebra had worked their way back from the seventh-seed, outlasting Alaska in two do-or-die games and surviving an epic "Manila Clasico" semifinals to make it to the championship round.
The Gin Kings were clearly determined to extend the series, with Aguilar in particular starting out like a house on fire. Ginebra's athletic center had 13 of their 21 points in the first quarter, with San Miguel only taking the lead thanks to three-pointers from Santos.
In the second frame, Mercado joined the fray, with his three-pointer and then transition bucket making it a one-point game, 36-35. But the Beermen had an answer, and it came in the form of Arwind Santos who knocked down three three-pointers in the first half.
After an Aguilar jumper made it a one-possession game, 39-41, with 3:44 left, Cabagnot and Ross went to work, and they conspired in a 10-2 run to end the opening half.
Ginebra clawed their way back in the third quarter, but they simply could not get over the hump.
"It was not an easy win for us," Austria acknowledged after the game. "But ang players namin – sabi ko nga sa inyo, ang body language nila is different. Kundisyon sila, and this is what happened."
Aguilar led Ginebra with 26 points and 16 rebounds, while Devance, who played nearly the entire playoffs on an injured left foot, had 20 points, 12 boards, and eight assists. Mercado scored 11 of his 20 points in the final quarter.
The Gin Kings, however, ran out of steam in the end. Head coach Tim Cone opted to shorten his rotation and give heavy minutes to his starters, but they could not match the firepower of San Miguel's explosive starting five.
SAN MIGUEL 91 - Fajardo 21, Santos 21, Cabagnot 18, Ross 12, Lassiter 12, Espinas 4, Tubid 3, De Ocampo 0.
GINEBRA 85 - Aguilar 26, Devance 20, Mercado 20, Tenorio 10, Marcelo 4, Thompson 3, Caguioa 2, Ferrer 0.
Quarterscores: 27-21, 51-41, 63-61, 91-85.
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