SAN Miguel Beer scratched and clawed its way back into contention for a Top 4 place in the PBA Governors Cup playoffs by turning back Air21, 101-88 in a heated, highly physical road match on Saturday at the Alonte Sports Arena in Binan, Laguna.
In the two teams' first meeting since the Express’ quarterfinal upset over the twice-to-beat Beermen in the Commissioner’s Cup last April, Sol Mercado and fit-again Chris Ross delivered the most crucial blows when San Miguel made the decisive breakaway in the fourth period.
By ending the single-round eliminations tied with Air21 at 5-4 (win-loss), the Beermen revived their claim for a place in the Top 4 which guarantees a twice-to-beat incentive in the playoffs.
Their playoff position now hinges on two matches that will more or less determine the seedings and the match-ups in the playoffs - Ginebra's (5-3) match against Talk 'N Text (6-4) on Sunday and the Rain or Shine-San Mig (both 5-3) showdown on Monday.
But whatever happens in the two matches, Air21 no longer has a chance to get a Top 4 spot, having damaged its tiebreak quotient after the lopsided loss to the Beermen.
As things stand, only Talk 'N Text is assured of a Top 4 spot in the playoffs, with Ginebra, San Mig, and Rain or Shine set get there with victories in their final matches.
Mercado, who struggled under San Miguel coach Biboy Ravanes and active consultant Todd Purves’ system for much of the conference, exploded for 16 points to go with five assists.
The speedy Mercado scored six in a key fourth-quarter run that turned a precarious four-point lead into a 99-83 bubble for the Beermen, capping the spurt with a wide-open three-pointer with 1:27 left in the game.
Ross scored five of his 11 points over the same stretch while managing to keep his focus despite several physical skirmishes with Air21 guard Joseph Yeo during the course of the match.
Ross and Yeo went at it during the Commissioner’s Cup playoffs, with Air21 guard getting suspended for one game for a below-the-belt hit on San Miguel's Fil-Am guard.
San Miguel Beer 101 - Williams 27, Fajardo 20, Mercado 16, Ross 11, Santos 10, Kramer 9, Tubid 6, Chua 2, Lutz 0, Maierhofer 0, Lassiter 0.
Air21 88 - Sutton 26, Taulava 18, Yeo 12, Ramos 12, Cardona 6, Poligrates 6, J. Villanueva 6, Borboran 2, Atkins 0, Anthony 0, E. Villanueva 0, Camson 0, Menor 0.
Quarterscores: 31-23 51-45 75-68 101-88