San Miguel finished off NorthPort, 100-95, in Game Two of their 2021 Honda PBA Philippine Cup best-of-three quarterfinal series, Thursday at the Don Honorio Ventura State University Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.
The Beermen warded off a Batang Pier side fighting for dear life towards returning to the semifinals after bombing out of the quarters in last year’s Clark bubble play, where their five-year reign ended at the hands of Meralco.
“We all know that it will not (be) an easy game, because this is a do-or-die for NorthPort. That’s why I told the team na, we have to take this seriously dahil their back is against the wall,” said head coach Leo Austria.
“And at the same time, we want to get into the semifinals right away, and no need for us to get into the third game because the third game is do-or-die. You can expect anything from your opponent,” he added.
The former five-time all-Filipino champions have set a meeting with long-time corporate rivals TNT in a race-to-four affair, the same team whom they handed its only loss to back in the eliminations through an 83-67 conquest.
“Since we have a chance to get in the playoffs, we’re eyeing the championship. But it’s not easy because there’s a lot of teams playing beautifully. And they improved a lot, especially TNT,” said the decorated mentor.
Seven players finished in double figures for SMB, with CJ Perez leading the pack with 21 points. Mo Tautuaa supplied 17 points, while Marcio Lassiter made 15 markers as he went 4-of-5 from beyond the arc.
Reigning six-time MVP June Mar Fajardo had 12 points and 12 rebounds, as Chris Ross, Arwind Santos, and the returning Terrence Romeo all had 11 markers apiece as the Beermen were finally at full strength.
Romeo completed the squad from a foot injury after Alex Cabagnot came back in Game One of the quarterfinals last Sunday.
“Alam naman natin na sina Alex at saka si Terrence are still struggling. But I know if they will be given some time to practice with the team, I think makukuha nila ‘yun,” said Austria as they now await the semis schedule.
San Miguel managed to build a 13-point separation late in the third quarter, but its foes just would not go away in a bid to extend the series.
Behind Robert Bolick, Greg Slaughter, and Sidney Onwuber, the Batang Pier sliced the gap to just four points, 93-97, with 37 seconds left.
However, they failed at their attempts to inch much closer as their shots couldn’t fall. And the tandem of Lassiter and Ross went on to put them away.
“We consider NorthPort as a strong team, a team to beat. Hindi lang sila mga bata eh, talented sila and ready to play. ‘Yung pagkabaguhan nila sa court eh, hindi mo mate-trace, hindi mo makikita,” said Austria.
Slaughter led NorthPort with 27 points and 12 rebounds in the loss, which foiled the team’s bid for its first semis trip since the 2019 Governors’ Cup.
Rookie Jamie Malonzo made 17 points and eight rebounds. Onwubere had 14 points, as Bolick finished with 12 points, 14 assists, and eight boards.
San Miguel 100 – Perez 21, Tautuaa 17, Lassiter 15, Fajardo 12, Romeo 11, Santos 11, Ross 11, Cabagnot 2, Pessumal 0.
NorthPort 95 – Slaughter 27, Malonzo 17, Onwubere 14, Bolick 12, Taha 9, Balanza 8, Rike 5, Doliguez 3, Ferrer 0, Elorde 0.
Quarterscores: 17-19, 46-39, 74-66, 100-95.