'BIG GAME' James Yap once again lived up to the billing, providing the telling blows in a late fightback that enabled San Mig to pull off a 77-75 win over Talk 'N Text in a Game Three dogfight and move within a win of a third successive PBA championship.
Yap stepped up late in what San Mig coach Tim Cone later described as a "game for the ages," rescuing the Mixers after back-to-back three-pointers by Ranidel De Ocampo and newly minted 'Best Player' awardee Jason Castro opened a 75-71 lead for Talk 'N Text with 1:15 to go.
The two-time league MVP set up import James Mays for the three-point play that cut the lead to one before hitting a fallaway jumper from the deep right corner with the shotclock winding down and TnT defender Kelly Williams in total pursuit, 76-71.
“It was a game for the ages, just two real proud teams that don’t quit,” said San Mig coach Tim Cone after the thriller that was witnessed by a crowd of 12,468 fans at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“We have absolute total respect for Talk ‘N Text and their guys over there. It was battle, battle all the way through,” he added.
The veteran-laden Texters, however, surprisingly crumbled in the clutch, their bid to turn it around set back by a flubbed pass between De Ocampo and Castro that led to a turnover.
The usually poised Texters also couldn't get off a clear shot after a Joe Devance free throw turned it into a two-point lead for San Mig, 77-75, with 4.8 seconds left, settling for a hurried shot by Castro that bounced off the rim as time expired.
By taking a 2-1 lead in the Commissioner's Cup best-of-five series, San Mig get a chance to wrap up a title treble when Game Four is played on Thursday in the league's former home - the Philsports Arena in Pasig City.
The 6-2 Yap, who played just 18 minutes and was benched by Cone for much of the second half in the team’s 76-86 Game Two loss, came back with a vengeance after finishing with eight of his 13 points in the second half.
His scoring partner Peter June Simon, who was held down to just four points on Sunday, also came alive to score 17 points, going 7-of-10 from the field in the game marked by 10 deadlocks and 10 lead changes.
Cone reiterated his decision to limit the playing minutes of Yap, Simon and even forward Marc Pingris in Game Two is just part of his ploy to keep his three veteran San Mig stars fresh for down-the-wire games like this.
“I try to keep the three guys fresh, just like (San Antonio Spurs’ Tim) Duncan, (Manu) Ginobili and (Tony) Parker. I’ve got a good second group and it looks like they struggle tonight, but when it comes down to big games like this, we’re gonna rely on them (Yap, Simon and Pingris) and they know that,” explained the San Mig mentor, who is gunning for his 17th PBA title with a win in Game Four.
James Mays led the Mixers with 20 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks.
Castro led the Tropang Texters with 21 points, while Ranidel de Ocampo added 18. Best Import awardee Richard Howell chipped in 10 and 21 rebounds.
San Mig 77 - Mays 20, Simon 17, Yap 13, Devance 10, Pingris 7, Sangalang 6, Barroca 2, Mallari 2, De Ocampo 0, Reavis 0, Melton 0.
Talk 'N Text 75 - Castro 21, De Ocampo 18, Canaleta 12, Howell 10, Williams 5, Carey 5, Reyes Ryan 4, Reyes Rob 0, Aban 0, Fonacier 0, Alapag 0.
Quarterscores: 25-15, 37-35, 60-56, 77-75