Even when they're down big, never count out the San Miguel Beermen.
Banking on their vast championship experience, San Miguel clawed back from a 16-point fourth quarter deficit to steal Game 5 of the 2019 PBA Commissioner's Cup Finals against the TNT KaTropa, 99-94, Wednesday evening at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Though not the Best Import, SMB reinforcement Chris McCullough came up big by drilling the biggest shot of the night, a tough bank shot that put his team up 95-94, with 26.5 ticks left. He also made the biggest stop of the night the possession prior by stripping Jones as he attempted to shoot.
McCullough's shot was just one of his many field goals, finishing the game with 35 points, 19 of which came in the last 12 minutes, 22 rebounds, four assists, and three block shots, playing all 48 minutes.
Counterpart Terrence Jones, guarded heavily, overcooked and missed on a potential game-winner, his layup attempt bouncing off the rim and sailing into the hands of McCullough. The former Brooklyn Net then drilled two insurance free throws to put his team up 97-94.
TNT still had a chance, but Troy Rosario's game-tying attempt went wide to the left, ultimately closing the door for his squad, leading to their first back-to-back losses of the conference.
Chris Ross then put the final nail in the coffin by hitting two more freebies.
Jones, who also played without relief, flirted with a triple-double as he ended up with 35 markers, 17 boards, eight dimes, and four rejections.
"There's a lot of hard work to do because this is the first time that TNT lost back-to-back, so we know that they're doing everything to even out the series," said SMB head coach Leo Austria. "But we're not going to let the opportunity away."
San Miguel can win their second title of the season and keep their Grand Slam bid alive on Friday at the same venue.
TNT engineered a 10-4 run to end the first quarter, which saw an 18-all tie to a 28-22 advantage at the start of the second.
In the second quarter, the KaTropa went ahead by as many as 11, 47-36, but the Beermen responded down the stretch to cut the gap at the half, 49-45.
Things remained the same for the flagship franchise of the MVP Group in the third period, closing the canto strong to bring with them an 80-69 advantage heading to the fourth.
Following up on a strong finish to end the third, TNT upped the ante in the opening minutes of the payoff period, erecting a 16-point advantage, 85-69, courtesy of a high-looper three by RR Pogoy just over a minute in.
However, San Miguel would not give up, ending the payoff period with a 30-9 blitz.
Austria knew that his import would deliver in the endgame.
"That's what I want him to get the last shot and perfect. Perfect execution," the amiable tactician said.
Even though he did not win the prestigious Best Import award, McCullough says has his sights set on a championship instead.
"Best Import award, I said if it wasn't Terrence Jones, I probably got it to be honest. I'm aiming for a championship," he said. "Game 6 on Friday. We'll come ready to play and mentally locked in to get this win, and not let it go to Game 7. We're going to win this sh-t!"
SMB (99) -- McCullough 35, Romeo 22, Fajardo 16, Pessumal 9, Ross 7, Cabagnot 4, Standhardinger 4, Santos 2.
TNT (94) -- Jones 35, Castro 18, Rosario 16, Pogoy 12, Trollano 7, D. Semerad 6, Taha 0, Reyes 0, Heruela 0, Magat 0.
Quarter Scores: 22-28, 45-49, 69-80, 99-94.
- San Miguel has won the title the last six times it has won Game 5 in a 2-2 deadlock in a best-of-seven PBA Finals, and the last two instances in the Leo Austria era, per PBA head statistician Fidel Mangonon III.
- It is not the end for TNT, as they won a title after being down 3-2 in the championship series, winning Game 7 of the 2009 Philippine Cup Finals against Alaska.