MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATED) The Phoenix Fuel Masters are back in the fight in the 2019 PBA Philippine Cup semifinals, after a hard-earned 92-90 victory over the San Miguel Beermen on Sunday at the Araneta Coliseum.
The top-seeded Fuel Masters were down 0-2 in the best-of-seven series, but earned a breakthrough victory to cut the deficit to one game, 2-1.
Matthew Wright, playing despite an illness, nailed the clutch free throws down the stretch to tow Phoenix to their first semifinal triumph.
"I have to commend the team, especially 'yung mga off the bench ko kanina," said Phoenix coach Louie Alas. "I have to commend them because of their resiliency."
Calvin Abueva had 18 points and 13 rebounds, while Wright bucked foul trouble in the first half to contribute 18 markers as well, 12 of which came in the fourth quarter. Justin Chua added 15 points, and RJ Jazul had 14.
It was a tight battle down the stretch as neither team could gain any separation. Phoenix claimed a six-point lead, 82-76, with 5:21 to go off an RJ Jazul jumper, only for the Beermen to uncork an 8-2 run to knot the count at 84.
The Beermen made the Fuel Masters pay for their physicality, with June Mar Fajardo in particular drawing fouls inside the paint. They went 5-of-8 of free throws in the run, with Terrence Romeo draining two charities for the tie.
A lay-up by Justin Chua gave Phoenix an 86-84 lead, before Christian Standhardinger's split made it a one-point game, 86-85, with 1:49 to go. Fajardo drew Abueva's fifth foul with 90 seconds left, and again made one of two freebies to tie the game for the eighth and last time at 86.
A missed triple by Abueva gave San Miguel an opening, but Romeo bricked his jumper on the other end, and Ross was forced to send Wright to the line. He coolly made two free throws to give Phoenix the lead for good, 88-86. After Alex Cabagnot misfired on his own jumper with 38 ticks left, Ross again committed a foul on Wright who went 2-of-2 at the charity stripe.
A bucket by Fajardo kept SMB alive, 90-88, but Wright proved to be clutch as he nailed two more free throws for a four-point lead, 92-88. Ross's lay-up with 16 seconds left, and two missed free throws by JC Intal left the door open for San Miguel, but Ross bricked a triple, and Von Pessumal also overshot a desperation heave as the shot-clock expired.
"Ganito rin naman 'yung second game," said Alas, referring to SMB's 92-82 win in Game 2. "Hindi lang kami naka-close out. Siguro, natuto na kami with what happened sa second game."
San Miguel was missing Marcio Lassiter, who scored 24 points in Game 2.
It was an eventful, physical first half that saw several players spill onto the court, and Dave Marcelo ejected early in the second quarter after getting called for a flagrant foul penalty 2 for a hit on Standhardinger.
Phoenix started the game on an 8-0 run, with San Miguel missing its first 10 shots of the game. The Beermen didn't get on board until the 7:51 mark of the first quarter, off a pull-up jumper by Cabagnot. Despite their slow start, the Beermen stayed close, thanks in part to Jason Perkins and Wright both getting into foul trouble early.
San Miguel got its first taste of the lead with 11:27 to go in the second period, off a step-back three-pointer by Romeo that made it 22-21. Phoenix responded with a 10-2 run to seize a 31-24 advantage, and the Fuel Masters managed to push the lead to nine points, 40-31, off free throws by Jazul and Abueva.
But the Beermen ended the half strong, with Ross netting a triple and Fajardo scoring inside to make it a four-point game heading into the break, 40-36.
Fajardo finished with monster numbers again, putting up 22 points and 19 rebounds while going 7-of-11 from the field. Cabagnot (18 points), Romeo (16) and Standhardinger (16) also reached double-digits for the Beermen.
Neither team shot well from the field, with Phoenix registering a 35.6% clip and San Miguel, a 34.5% clip. But the Beermen were undone by their free throw shooting, as they missed 17 of 39 charities in what was a two-point loss.
Phoenix also had a massive 71-49 rebounding edge, and their 28 offensive rebounds led to 25 second chance points.
Phoenix 92 - Abueva 18, Wright 18, Chua 15, Jazul 14, Perkins 8, Intal 8, Kramer 5, Revilla 4, Mallari 2, Napoles 0, Mendoza 0, Dennison 0, Guevarra 0.
San Miguel 90 - Fajardo 22, Cabagnot 18, Romeo 16, Standhardinger 16, Ross 8, Pessumal 3, Santos 3, Rosser 2, Nabong 2, Zamar 0, Tubid 0.
Quarterscores: 21-19, 40-36, 64-66, 92-90
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