MANILA (UPDATED) - Alex Cabagnot was superb in his return from a long absence, and the San Miguel Beermen survived a last-ditch rally to snatch an 88-87 triumph over the NorthPort Batang Pier, Sunday at the Don Honorio Ventura State University Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.
The thrilling victory gave the Beermen a 1-0 lead in their best-of-3 quarterfinal series, and put them just one win away from a spot in the semifinals of the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup.
Cabagnot, who has missed San Miguel's last seven games due to a knee injury, put up 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting, including the game-winning jumper with 1.5 seconds left to live up to his reputation as the team's clutch shot maker.
It was a heartbreaking ending for the Batang Pier, who clawed their way back from a double-digit deficit in the final period and seized an 87-86 lead with 5.1 ticks left after Robert Bolick drilled a three-pointer from nearly half-court.
"The last play, Alex was the first option to receive, but his man anticipated his move, that's why he got the ball out there, and I know Alex is familiar with that kind of situation, in that area," said San Miguel coach Leo Austria of their final play.
"There are so many options … Alex, he knows what kind of situation we're facing at the time, less than five seconds, so alam niya 'yun eh, binibilang niya na, kinukwenta niya na," he added.
Mo Tautuaa had 15 points, CJ Perez added 14 markers, while June Mar Fajardo put up a 10-point, 11-rebound double-double.
It looked as though San Miguel was headed towards a comfortable victory as they took an 11-point lead, 83-72, with still over four minutes left off a Marcio Lassiter floater. NorthPort was also playing without captain Sean Anthony, who exited with some six minutes to go after a bad landing that saw him hurt his left ankle.
The Batang Pier showed no quit, however. A triple by Paolo Taha sparked a 12-2 run that made it a one-point game, 85-84, with 65 seconds to go. NorthPort blew a chance to take the lead when rookie Jamie Malonzo bricked a layup, and Bolick was forced to foul Cabagnot who made one of two shots for 86-84 count with seven seconds left.
Off a timeout, Bolick got the ball near half court and pulled up for a long three-pointer that hit nothing but net, giving the Batang Pier their first lead since the second quarter. It was also Bolick's lone make from long range after missing his first four attempts.
But San Miguel had the answer courtesy of Cabagnot, who received Chris Ross' inbound pass and got to his spot for the game-winning jump shot.
"I just got in (the semi-bubble) last night, and he (Austria) could have easily not played me today," said Cabagnot, who made seven of his 13 shots. "But he gave me the trust, and he even left me out there, so thank you so much coach."
Anthony finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and four assists before suffering his injury, while Greg Slaughter had 15 points and 10 boards. Bolick put up 13 points and seven assists, while Malonzo had 13 points and nine rebounds.
The Scores :
SAN MIGUEL 88 – Cabagnot 20, Tautuaa 15, Perez 14, Fajardo 10, Ross 12, Santos 9, Lassiter 8, Gotladera 0, Zamar 0, Pessumal 0
NORTHPORT 87 – Anthony 16, Slaughter 15, Malonzo 13, Bolick 13, Taha 10, Elorde Ferrer 8, Onwubere 7, 3, Rike 2, Lanete 0, Balanza 0
Quarters: 21-19, 44-43, 65-60, 88-87