ANTIPOLO – As he knocked down the go-ahead triple, Alex Cabagnot turned to the San Miguel Beer bench and gestured an imaginary bow and arrow that playfully knocked his teammates down.
That has summed up how the Beermen has gone through most of its opponents in the PBA Philippine Cup eliminations, including on Saturday night.
The Beermen displayed their championship experience once again, denying TNT KaTropa’s comeback with a 98-94 victory at the Ynares Center to continue to gain steam heading into the playoffs of the all-Filipino conference.
June Mar Fajardo scored two straight stabs that knotted the count, before Cabagnot – like what he has done countless times – hit the three-pointer from top of the key that put the Beermen up for good and spared the blushes after the squandered a double-digit lead.
“Sino ba ang magaakala na in spite na we’re already in the number one spot, eh talagang parang championship pa ang nilalaro nila?” SMB coach Leo Austria asked.
“This game is what we need going into the playoffs,” he added.
The Beermen thus registered a ninth straight victory to win all but one of their 11 games in the regular season, while the Texters finished the eliminations with a 6-5 win-loss record.
For a while, though, it looked like SMB’s winning streak was about to come to an end after the Beermen saw the Texters erase a 78-70 deficit early in the fourth as they took a 94-90 lead after a Mo Tautuaa stab off an up-and-under move with a little less than three minutes remaining.
But the Beermen finished the game with eight unanswered points – with Fajardo scoring four straight points off feeds from Chris Ross and Cabagnot, who then switched roles with Fajardo, going through the three-time MVP’s screen to get free for the go-ahead trey with 26.7 seconds left.
Cabagnot finished with 19 points, two assists, two boards, and two steals, while Fajardo anchored the Beermen with 20 points, 22 rebounds, and three blocks in 38 minutes.
Tautuaa led the Texters with 20 points and three boards in just 19 minutes that went for naught.
SMB 98 – Fajardo 20, Cabagnot 19, Lassiter 18, Santos 18, Ross 9, Reyes 7, Espinas 4, Garcia 2, Agovida 1, Heruela 0, Tubid 0
TNT 94 – Tautuaa 20, Castro 15, Fonacier 10, Rosales 10, De Ocampo 9, Carey 6, Reyes 6, Pogoy 6, Rosario 4, Williams 3, Rosser 3, Golla 2
Quarterscores: 31-24, 53-50, 76-67, 98-94