THE steep road to PBA Philippine Cup supremacy still goes through San Miguel Beer.
The Beermen reminded Barangay Ginebra that on Sunday night, putting up a resolute defensive stand to hold off the Gin Kings, 72-70, and maintain their position atop the all-Filipino conference standings.
Arwind Santos rescued the Beermen from a late collapse, pulling down two crucial offensive rebounds off Alex Cabagnot misses, before forcing LA Tenorio to take a tough jumper inside the lane with Ginebra down by just two.
As a result, the quarterfinals-assured Beermen registered a sixth straight win and seventh in eight games overall, while dropping the Gin Kings below .500 with a 3-4 win-loss record.
“I knew from the start it was going to be tight game for us,” SMB coach Leo Austria said as his team played its second game in three days. “The energy has gone down from our game against Blackwater, pero buti na lang may konti pang laman ang gas tanks ng players.”
Santos was one of three SMB players who scored in double digits, firing all his 10 points in the second half, but the former league MVP made a bigger mark on the defensive end, giving the Beermen two extra possessions when Cabagnot’s two three-point tries in their last two offensive possessions were off the mark.
Cabagnot still showed the way offensively with 16 points for the Beermen, who looked ready to pull away when they led, 69-60, after Santos scored a lefty layup with less than five minutes to go.
But the Gin Kings mounted on a trademark comeback, going on a 10-1 run, capped by a triple by Tenorio from top of the key off a raw challenge from Chris Ross with 52.1 seconds remaining.
Cabagnot tried to score the insurance points for SMB, but missed – and Santos was there to clean it up.
Japeth Aguilar led the Gin Kings with 17 points and 11 boards in a losing effort.
SMB 72 – Cabagnot 16, Tubid 12, Santos 10, Fajardo 9, Lassiter 7, Espinas 7, De Ocampo 5, Ross 4, Garcia 2, Heruela 0
GINEBRA 70 - Aguilar 17, Mercado 11, Tenorio 8, Devance 7, Ferrer 7, Thompson 6, Cruz 6, Ellis 2, Mariano 2, Marcelo 2, Caguioa 2
Quarterscores: 15-17, 32-31, 53-49, 72-70