San Miguel draws first blood

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TERRENCE Romeo of Talk ‘N Text challenges the defense of Brian Heruela of San Miguel Beer during Game 1 of their Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Commissioner’s Cup best-of-three quarterfinals yesterday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

San Miguel Beer dug deep into its well of championship experience as it erased a huge 23-point deficit to run away with an impressive 121-110 victory over Talk ‘N Text in Game 1 of their Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Commissioner’s Cup best-of-three quarterfinal series last night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

The Beermen, the reigning champions of Asia’s first play-for-pay league, refused to panic over their rusty start, where they stared at a huge 23-46 deficit early in the second period.

They patiently clawed their way back until slicing it down to only three, 103-106, in the 5:31 mark of the fourth quarter. Then, they dropped a booming 16-0 blast capped by a pair of three throws from import Renaldo Balkman to tally a safe 119-106 lead entering the final one-minute mark to ice the battle and gain a 1-0 edge.

Controversy, however, marred the endgame as the KaTropa raised the possibility of putting the game under protest to question that fouls called on them.

The KaTropa was assessed with 35 fouls while the Beermen were given only 19. San Miguel also took a trip to the charity stripe 40 times compared to TNT’s only 18 with Balkman hitting 14 of his 16 freebies.

A KaTropa official signed the game’s official stat sheet and they have until 12 noon today to formally lodge a complaint.

Still, it was an impressive win for the Beermen, who blew hot and cold in the elimination round before clinching the sixth spot in the quarterfinals behind Rain or Shine, Alaska, TNT, Meralco and Ginebra.

“We never thought that we can come back from that huge deficit,” said San Miguel coach Leo Austria, who is on the verge of leading his squad back to the semifinals.

“I give credit to my players. Their composure was there. They didn’t quit.”

Austria, whose team won six of the past 10 PBA titles, said their experience played a crucial role in their comeback as nobody displayed traces of being alarmed.

“It’s maybe because of the experience of the team. They know how to get back from that kind of huge deficit.”

June Mar Fajardo delivered another dominant performance as he finished with 27 points and 13 rebounds while containing KaTropa’s hulking import Joshua Smith in the second half.

Gunner Marcio Lassiter was also instrumental as he knocked down 26 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals for the Beermen, who will face the survivor in the Alaska-Magnolia encounter in a best-of-five semifinal series should they emerge victorious in Game 2.

Austria, however, made special mention of Balkman, who registered a game-high 36 points, 16 rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks without resting a single minute.

“Balkman just wants to win,” he said. “He told us that he’s hungry for a victory. That’s why he refused to take a rest.”

Gilas Pilipinas standouts Troy Rosario, Jason Castro, Terrence Romeo and Roger Pogoy combined for 25 points in the first half where TNT converted 10 triples to gain a 62-48 lead at the break.

But their hot-shooting went sour as they connected only three triples in the second half to finish with an ugly 14-of-43 shooting.

Smith tallied 17 points, eight rebounds, four assists and four steals in 30 minutes of action while Pogoy and Kelly Williams chipped in 17 and 16 points, respectively, for the KaTropa, who drew 10 points and nine rebounds from Castro.

The scores:
San Miguel 121 – Balkman 36, Fajardo 27, Lassiter 26, Santos 10, Ross 9, Cabagnot 6, Rosser 4, Nabong 3, Heruela 0, Vigil 0.
TNT 110 – Smith 17, Pogoy 17, Williams 16, Romeo 13, Semerad 11, Castro 10, Trollano 10, Rosario 9, Cruz 5, Taha 2, Garcia 0, Paredes 0, Golla 0, Carey 0, Reyes 0, Tamsi 0.
Quarterscores: 21-40, 48-62, 86-88, 121-110.