The San Miguel Beermen booked a return trip to the finals after finishing off the Alaska Aces, 104-99, in Game 4 of the semifinals of the 2018 PBA Commissioner's Cup on Sunday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
June Mar Fajardo topped with 26 points and 12 rebounds while reinforcement Renaldo Balkman also had a double-double outing of 23 markers and 16 boards.
Alex Cabagnot delivered in the clutch en route to 18 points, to go with five rebounds, nine assists, and three steals. Chris Ross contributed 17 markers including four three-pointers.
"I know that since three years ago, Alaska is one of the toughest teams in the league," said SMB coach Leo Austria about the win. "Even though they're down 0-2, they're fighting back. But what we learned in our last game when they beat us by 24 points, that's an embarrassment for us. The players' pride was hurt. They stepped up tonight, they're so focused in this game."
After a tight exchange in the first 24 minutes, the Beermen came out firing after the halftime break. A huge 14-4 rally allowed them to turn a one-point deficit into a 57-48 lead. Behind Diamon Simpson's efforts, the Aces inched within a single possession before Balkman and Cabagnot conspired to end the third period on top by seven.
Christian Standhardinger gave San Miguel a ten-point cushion, 80-70, early in the final frame. Simon Enciso heated up from beyond the arc to give Alaska a fighting chance but Cabagnot was there to counter his long bombs.
With 34 ticks left on the clock, Cabagnot unleashed a dagger step-back 3-pointer that made it 100-92 in favor of the Beermen. Vic Manuel and Enciso hit more late buckets but time was no longer on their side as they bowed out of the conference.
Simpson put up a 24-point, 21-rebound performance in the loss. Manuel chipped in with 20 markers while Enciso nailed five 3s en route to 19 points.
San Miguel (104): Fajardo 26, Balkman 23, Cabagnot 18, Ross 17, Lassiter 8, Nabong 6, Santos 4, Standhardinger 2, Heruela 0
Alaska (99): Simpson 24, Manuel 20, Enciso 19, Casio 15, Teng 6, Racal 4, Exciminiano 4, Magat 3, Thoss 2, Baclao 2, Galliguez 0
Quarter scores: 20-23, 43-44, 76-69, 104-99
-- Cabagnot dropped 11 of his 18 points in the second half, seven of which were scored in the final two and a half minutes.
-- According to PBA statistician Fidel Mangonon, the sixth-seeded Beermen are the lowest-seeded defending champions that made it back to the finals.
-- This is Leo Austria's seventh finals appearance since taking over the San Miguel franchise in 2014. He has a 6-0 record in the championship stage.