The San Miguel Beermen are a team that knows when it is winning time.That experience and championship poise proved to be the difference as the Beermen held off the top-seeded Phoenix Fuel Masters 105-94 in Game 5 to close out the series and advance to the Philippine Cup finals.
Phoenix did not go without a fight. The Fuel Masters slowly crawled back from a 25-point hole and made it a nip-and-tuck contest in the homestretch. But in the end the Beermen will continue their pursuit of an unprecedented five-straight All-Filipino championship title.
Chris Ross led the team with 24 points, three rebounds, four assists, and six steals while turning the ball over only once. Alex Cabagnot added 22 points while June Mar Fajardo posted 17 points and 16 boards.
"We're so grateful we're back in the finals," said SMB coach Leo Austria. "All we needed is to have a good start and it happened."
The Beermen indeed had a good start. They established a lead as high as 25 points before the Fuel Masters a Matthew Wright jumper pulled the team to within four, 98-94 with 2:32 remaining.
That's the last time the Fuel Masters, first-timers in the semifinals, would score.
"We relaxed, until we felt the pressure. That's the time they came close. Fortunately my players stepped up," Austria said.
Despite getting the boot in its first semifinals appearance in franchise history, Phoenix's Philippine Cup campaign has been nothing short of spectacular.
"Credit to Phoenix. They really pushed us to our limits. We loved it. Hopefully we could learn from this going into the finals. We hope we can sustain this momentum going into the finals," Austria said.
The Beermen will have plenty of time to refresh with the finals slated on May 1. It's a welcome respite after a physical series.
"Thanks to this win, we'll be having a much-needed rest because our players are really tired," Austria said.
SAN MIGUEL 105 - Ross 24, Cabagnot 22, Fajardo 17, Santos 12, Romeo 10, Pessumal 8, Standhardinger 5, Ganuelas-Rosser 4, Lassiter 3, Tubid 0, Nabong 0.
PHOENIX 94 - Wright 20, Chua 18, Revilla 15, Jazul 9, Perkins 8, Intal 8, Kramer 6, Mallari 4, Marcelo 3, Mendoza 2, Abueva 1, Dennison 0.
Quarters: 22-15, 51-39, 85-70, 105-94.
Calvin Abueva was ejected with 42.2 seconds remaining after a flagrant foul penalty 1 on June Mar Fajardo.
Phoenix was livid after LA Revilla was called for an offensive foul after making a floater in transition against Chris Ross in the midst of a searing Fuel Masters rally in the fourth period.