SMB beats Star in grind-out, defensive battle, levels semifinal playoff at 1-all
SMB import Charles Rhodes and Arwind Santos celebrate the Game Two win. Jerome Ascano

SAN Miguel Beer beat Star in its own game, hacking out a 77-76 Game Two victory to tie their PBA Commissioner’s Cup semifinal series at the one apiece on Monday night at the Mall of Asia Arena.

The offensive powerhouse Beermen squandered an early 16-point lead, but proved steady down the stretch of a grind-out, defensive battle that usually the Hotshots thrive in.

Arwind Santos saved his best for last, scoring his only basket on a triple that proved to be the go-ahead basket, before the Beermen withstood the heady play of Mark Barroca in the next two possessions and Paul Lee’s potential game-winner to hold on in the low-scoring affair.

“This is the kind of game we’re expecting,” SMB coach Leo Austria said. “But I have to commend all the players. And we’re lucky because the last shot of Paul Lee didn’t connect.”

“Kahit one point yan, tatanggapin ko ng buong-buo,” he added.

Game Three of the best-of-five series is on Wednesday night at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.

Charles Rhodes, Alex Cabagnot, June Mar Fajardo, and Marcio Lassiter, and Chris Ross all scored in double figures, but it was Santos who came up with the biggest shot in the endgame.

Santos missed his first five shots of the game, but found the mark when it counted most, knocking down the wing three-pointer off a Chris Ross dish that put the Beermen on top for good at 77-74 with three minutes and 47 seconds left.  

The Beermen were held scoreless from then on as they saw Barroca make a tough layup and draw a foul that pulled the Hotshots to within one point. Although the Star playmaker missed his bonus charity, he made up for it with steal off a June Mar Fajardo crosscourt pass that gave the Hotshots another possession.

Off a timeout, Lee drove through an Aldrech Ramos screen then rose for a floater that just went wide right as the leather went to Rhodes, who led the Beermen with 21 points, 10 boards, two steals, one assist, and one block in 33 minutes.

As solid as the SMB import’s numbers were, it still paled in comparison to Hotshots counterpart Ricardo Ratliffe, who hauled down 35 boards, the fourth most all-time rebounds in a game, and second most in the playoff, that just went for naught.

Jio Jalalon’s new career-high of 18 points was also wasted as the Hotshots fell short in pushing the Beermen to the brink of elimination.

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The scores:

SMB 77 – Rhodes 21, Cabagnot 13, Fajardo 12, Lassiter 11, Ross 10, Tubid 5, Santos 3, Espinas 2, Heruela 0

STAR 76 – Ratliffe 25, Jalalon 18, Sangalang 12, Maliksi 5, Ramos 5, Barroca 4, Melton 4, Lee 3, Reavis 0, Simon 0

Quarterscores: 25-16, 44-30, 58-60, 77-76

Follow the writer on Twitter: @KarloSacamos