MANILA, Philippines – San Miguel head coach Leo Austria acknowledged that the Beermen were "so lucky" to have advanced to the semifinals of the 2019 PBA Commissioner's Cup, after they escaped with a 90-88 triumph over NorthPort on Wednesday evening.
The Beermen entered the playoffs as the seventh seed and had to overcome a twice-to-beat disadvantage against the second-seeded Batang Pier. They claimed a comfortable 98-84 win last Sunday to force a do-or-die game, but needed to survive a late rally by NorthPort to secure passage to the semis.
"I have to give credit to the coaching staff of NorthPort because they prepared really hard and they have a good plan for this game," Austria said after the contest, which saw SMB import Chris McCullough nail the go-ahead lay-up with under 25 seconds left.
"And we're lucky na we got all the breaks, especially in the last three possessions," he acknowledged.
The Beermen were down 86-82 with under two minutes to go but got a triple then a lay-up in transition from Arwind Santos to seize an 87-86 lead with 1:25 left, before NorthPort rookie Robert Bolick answered for an 88-87 count with 33 seconds to go.
But McCullough was there to respond and push SMB back ahead, and the Beermen then got a massive break when Moala Tautuaa misfired on a wide-open three-pointer that could have given NorthPort the advantage again.
"We're lucky Mo Tautuaa was not able to knock that three-point shot. If not for that, I think that's the end of our conference," said Austria.
McCullough finished with 31 points and 11 boards, while Marcio Lassiter (11 points), Alex Cabagnot (10) and Santos (10) all reached double-digits for the Beermen.
"So lucky to get back to the semifinals, because you know, we're struggling since the start of this Commissioner's Cup," said Austria, whose team managed just a 5-6 win-loss record in the elimination round.
"We're so happy we made it to the semifinals in spite of us being No. 7 at the end of the elimination," he added.
The coach also credited their extensive playoff experience for the win, as he noted that his players knew what to do in the endgame despite falling behind.
"Sabi ko nga, itong mga players namin ay ayaw magpatalo," he said.
San Miguel will play either Blackwater or Rain or Shine in the best-of-5 semifinals.
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