MANILA, Philippines – The San Miguel Beermen found themselves in an uncomfortable position heading into the playoffs of the 2019 PBA Commissioner's Cup, as they managed to get just the seventh seed in the quarterfinals.
That meant they were up against the second-seeded NorthPort Batang Pier, who owned a twice-to-beat advantage and had already crushed SMB, 121-88, when they played in the elimination round.
The situation only gave the San Miguel veterans a chance to show their mettle. Playing with their backs against the wall on Sunday, the Beermen clamped down on NorthPort in the final six minutes of the game to pull out a 98-84 triumph, sending their match-up to a knockout game on Wednesday.
"I'm so happy with the team because they understand our situation right now. And we know na we're not comfortable with this position, but they gave us a chance to win, so I'm so happy for them," said SMB head coach Leo Austria.
Import Chris McCullough led the way for San Miguel with 24 points, including the dagger triple with 1:17 left that put San Miguel on top, 98-81.
But Chris Ross (18 points), Arwind Santos (15 points) and June Mar Fajardo (11 points, 19 rebounds) all did their share during San Miguel's 16-0 run to break the game open.
Santos nailed a triple, Fajardo imposed his will inside the paint, and Ross drew the sixth and final foul on NorthPort import Prince Ibeh with still 3:43 to play.
Austria praised his veterans, saying: "The composure of the players is still intact… they know how to handle the situation."
"That's what we're here for," Ross said of the veterans' gritty stand in the fourth frame, where they finally pulled away for good after seeing the Batang Pier claw their way back from double-digit deficits twice.
"We were kinda limping into the playoffs but now that it's here, we have to be at our A game," Ross also noted. "We can't afford any slip-ups in these couple of games."
As proud as they are of their effort against NorthPort, the Beermen also know that all they did was force a deciding game.
"We just gotta finish the job," Ross stressed.
The good news for San Miguel is that on Wednesday, both teams will be on even footing, unlike Sunday's contest when they were in a do-or-die situation.
"At least, pareho kami knockout," said Austria. "Talagang knockout. Kanina… our back is against the wall."
"But the way we played, I think andoon 'yung desire nila eh, and hopefully ma-sustain namin ito next game," he added.
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