Alex Cabagnot announced his return with a bang as he towed San Miguel past NorthPort, 88-87, in Game One of their 2021 Honda PBA Philippine Cup best-of-three quarterfinal battle, Sunday evening at the DHVSU Gym in Bacolor.
In his first game back from a knee injury that caused him to miss most of the elimination round, the 38-year-old guard drained the game-winning fallaway with 1.5 seconds left as the Beermen frustrated the Batang Pier anew.
That shot put to waste the heroics of Robert Bolick, who drained a three-pointer from near the logo with 5.1 ticks to go to put the fifth-seeded team up 87-86 after being down by 11 points with less than five minutes remaining.
Cabagnot finished with a game-high 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting and three rebounds as SMB moved one win away from the semifinals.
“Tamang-tama ‘yung pagdating niya dahil talagang medyo kulang kami sa firepower,” said head coach Leo Austria. “Nakita nyo naman yung firepower ni Alex–once he gets on the court, no more adjustments needed for him.
“Kasi for the past five years alam namin ang tinatakbo ng sistema e kaya mabilis makaka-adopt eh. Actually, very adopted na talaga siya kahit anong gawin mo. Alam na niya mangyayari,” the decorated mentor added.
Mo Tautuaa also dealt problems to his former team with 15 points and five rebounds. CJ Perez made 14 points and six boards, as Chris Ross supplied 12 markers, seven caroms, three assists, and two steals.
Reigning six-time MVP June Mar Fajardo had 10 points and 11 rebounds as Arwind Santos fell just short of a double-double with nine and 11.
The Beermen appeared to pull away in the third quarter when Marcio Lassiter connected with Ross for an alley-oop play and pushed their lead to 13 points, 63-50, with about five minutes left in the period.
They maintained their lead and were actually leading by 11 with 4:25 to go in the game, until Bolick spearheaded NorthPort’s hijack attempt that saw them get ahead thanks to his long triple off Paolo Taha’s inbound throw-in.
“It’s my fault na I was not able to tell some of the players na he can shoot even from midcourt. And it’s a gamble. Talagang tumama, “ Austria said.
Bolick was then subbed out as Batang Pier head coach Pido Jarencio opted for a defensive unit inside, since all they needed was one stop to protect their lead. But then, Cabagnot was just too crafty to be contained.
Upon receiving Ross’ inbound, the lefty guard attacked the defense of Sidney Onwubere and pulled up for a jumper that dejected their foes.
“Thank you to Chris Ross for reading the play and Alex, he knows what kind of situation we’re facing at the time, less than five seconds, alam niya yun eh. Binibilang niya yun, kinikwenta niya yun e,” said Austria.
NorthPort was not able to map out a proper counterattack as it had no more timeout to use. Onwubere received the ball from near the three-point line, but his shot all over the Beermen’s defense fell way short.
Austria said that they were fortunate enough to draw up a game-winning play with the 5.1 seconds they had to work with.
“Fortunately, may natira pang five seconds. It was time for us to design another play for us to get back what they did prior to that play,” he said. “And it’s a matter of familiarization with my players. We’ve been together for so long.”
Sean Anthony led NorthPort with 16 points and eight rebounds, although he suffered an ankle injury with 6:02 left in the game.
Greg Slaughter had 15 points and 10 rebounds. Bolick and Jamie Malonzo made 13 points apiece, while Taha added 10 in the defeat.
It marked the second time this season that the Batang Pier lost to SMB through a last-second shot. It bowed to the perennial contenders last July 25 in Pasig, 86-88, no thanks to a Santos jumper with 1.2 seconds left.
The Beermen will now look to finish off their opponents to return to the semis in Game Two next week.
San Miguel 88 – Cabagnot 20, Tautuaa 15, Perez 14, Ross 12, Fajardo 10, Santos 9, Lassiter 8, Pessumal 0, Zamar 0, Gotladera 0.
NorthPort 87 – Anthony 16, Slaughter 15, Malonzo 13, Bolick 13, Taha 10, Ferrer 8, Onwubere 7, Elorde 3, Rike 2, Balanza 0, Lanete 0.
Quarterscores: 21-19, 44-43, 65-60, 88-87.