Chris McCullough made the key stops on defense and the critical baskets on offense as the San Miguel Beermen edged the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters 98-95 in Game 4 of their best-of-five series to book a third-straight trip to the PBA Commissioner's Cup finals.
McCullough poured in 11 of his 35 points in the final quarter as the Beermen erased a 13-point deficit on Friday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
San Miguel will face TNT KaTropa in the finals. Game 1 will be Sunday, August 4 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Trailing 91-87 with 4:39 remaining, McCullough proceeded to score seven of the next nine points for SMB, including a long triple over Carl Montgomery to finally give his side a 96-94 lead with 2:45 remaining.
A tough pull-up by Terrence Romeo off a block by McCullough on Montgomery later stretched that lead to four. Rain or Shine still had ample time to close the gap down the stretch, but two missed triples and two turnovers in the final minute and a half killed all of its chances.
The final nail in the coffin was a steal by Chris Ross on James Yap with five seconds to go. That turnover came on a set play by the Elasto Painters coming off a timeout.
"I know we won two in a row in the first two games, but Rain or Shine has nothing to be ashamed of because they gave us a really good fight. We didn't know if we were going to win against them, it was a 50-50 ball game," coach Leo Austria said after the game.
Trailing by 63-50 early in the third quarter, McCullough teamed up with Alex Cabagnot in the third period to erase another big lead by Rain or Shine for the fourth straight game.
Completing the turnaround was made a bit trickier by a resurgent Ed Daquioag, who scored 10 of his 15 points early in the fourth quarter, but San Miguel did just enough to cool down the Elasto Painters' offense when it mattered.
"I salute them. They knew what to do. They had a good game plan," Austria said of Rain or Shine. "Coach Caloy (Garcia), you have nothing to be ashamed of because you did what you needed to do. I'm proud of you.
Rain or Shine was anchored by Montgomery's 18 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks. Rey Nambatac added 15 points and four assists.
Unlike Game 3, McCullough had more than enough help from the locals to put away the Elasto Painters. Cabagnot finished with 21 big points, while June Mar Fajardo bounced back from a subpar outing and recorded 19 points and seven boards.
" [T]he players refused to lose. They were really focused on this game because the last time, we gave up 112 points against Rain or Shine," Austria said.
Austria and the Beermen can now look forward to a tough challenge against TNT, which will be just the fifth time that the two squads will meet in the championship round. SMB has won three of the four clashes.
"At the start of the conference, we were struggling and we almost didn't make it into the quarterfinals. It was just a matter of one win. But it's a roller-coaster journey to the finals and we will embrace this. We will see what we can do in our next game in the finals against Talk 'N Text," Austria said.
San Miguel 98 - McCullough 35, Cabagnot 21, Fajardo 19, Standhardinger 11, Santos 5, Pessumal 3, Rosser 2, Romeo 2, Ross 0.
Rain or Shine 95 - Montgomery 18, Daquioag 15, Nambatac 15, Mocon 9, Belga 9, Torres 9, Norwood 5, Ponferada 5, Rosales 0, Borboran 0.
Quarterscores: 32-26, 41-44, 72-75, 98-95.
San Miguel will be the lowest seed to reach the finals since the seventh-seeded Barangay Ginebra made it there in the 2017 Philippine Cup.
Cabagnot has surpassed Willie Generalao for sixth in the league's all-time assists leaderbaords after his second assist in the game to June Mar Fajardo at 10:49 in the third quarter. He now has 3,257 career dimes.