MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATED) In an ill-tempered game that featured some near-skirmishes, the San Miguel Beermen displayed their cool in the closing stretches to fend off the TNT KaTropa, 109-97, in Game 3 of the 2017 PBA Commissioner's Cup Finals on Sunday at the Araneta Coliseum.
On-court physicality in the first half and off-court drama during the halftime break involving TNT's reserve imports only served to pump up the Beermen, who surged to a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Finals series.
San Miguel's backcourt tandem of Chris Ross and Alex Cabagnot came up with the biggest shots in the fourth quarter, further living up to their billing as the leading Best Player of the Conference candidates. Cabagnot had a team-high 28 points on top of nine rebounds and six assists, while Ross shook off a flagrant foul in the second quarter to score nine of his 17 points in the final frame.
"We did not have any major adjustment (in this game)," said SMB coach Leo Austria, whose team routed TNT, 102-88, in Game 2 last Friday to equalize the Finals series. "We just kept our intensity high."
"But it's far from over. We don't want to celebrate this game, because this win is nothing yet," the coach stressed. "We need to prepare for our fourth game."
The already emotionally charged series took another turn in the second period, when Ross engaged in trash talk with TNT's reserve import Mike Myers and Michael Craig, the KaTropa's reinforcement for the third conference.
Ross later got tangled up with Ryan Reyes, earning him a flagrant foul. Meanwhile, the two TNT imports had to be escorted from their courtside seats to stay behind their team bench. In the midst of the drama, Brian Heruela came off the SMB bench to give his team a lift, including a late block on Jayson Castro that allowed the Beermen to enter the halftime break down by just one point, 46-47.
Another commotion happened as the teams headed into the dugouts, with SMB officials seen airing their grievances to commissioner Chito Narvasa. The TNT imports were alleged to have shaken the railing leading into Araneta's backstage area, hurting an SMB official.
When the third period finally started, it was San Miguel that played with more fire, as they opened the quarter with six straight points to seize a 52-47 advantage. The Beermen would never trail again in Game 3, as they did just enough to answer every TNT flurry with a bucket of their own.
"I told the players na we have to be focused, and we don't want to engage in any untoward incident against them, dahil we're trying to protect the image of San Miguel Beer," Austria later said. "But we will not back down."
SMB took its first double-digit lead at the 6:52 mark of the third, when Marcio Lassiter popped open for a jump shot that made it 62-52. They maintained that advantage most of the way, though TNT did its best to remain within striking distance.
A three-pointer by Anthony Semerad made it an eight-point game, 88-96, with still 4:57 left to play, but Ross nailed a triple off a feed by Lassiter to restore their 11-point advantage, 99-88. After back-to-back buckets by Jayson Castro and RR Garcia made it 92-101 with 1:39 to go, Ross came up with another clutch three-pointer to make it a 12-point game, 104-92.
Castro answered with a triple of his own, but a floater by Cabagnot proved to be the dagger for the Beermen.
"I'm expecting a lot of things might happen in the game because I know the opponent really stepped up because they have to bounce back from their loss. But we had a different agenda eh, and the players because of their pride, we didn't have a bad start, and that's what we want to happen," said Austria.
SMB import Charles Rhodes had 25 points and 20 rebounds on his birthday, while Lassiter broke out of his slump to score 16 points. SMB shot 47% from the field, and tallied 23 assists. They also forced TNT to commit 23 turnovers, which they translated to 26 easy points.
Hulking import Joshua Smith had 18 points and 14 boards, but attempted only eight field goals in under 25 minutes of playing time. Castro had 17 points, but was responsible for 10 of TNT's 23 turnovers in the game.
RR Garcia led TNT with 19 points against his former team.
Game 4 of the series is on Wednesday at the Big Dome.
SAN MIGUEL 109 - Cabagnot 28, Rhodes 25, Ross 17, Lassiter 16, Santos 10, Fajardo 6, Heruela 5, Semerad 2, Tubid 0, Espinas 0.
TNT 97 - Garcia 19, Smith 18, Castro 17, Semerad 12, De Ocampo 9, Williams 8, Tautuaa 7, Reyes 7, Pogoy 0, Rosario 0.
Quarter scores: 23-23, 46-47, 79-72, 109-97.
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