Powerhouse San Miguel Beer roared back from 23 points down in the first half on Monday night to take a 121-110 triumph over TNT KaTropa in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup best-of three quarterfinals series at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
More than a 1-0 lead, the win gave the defending champion Beermen a huge psychological advantage.
“It’s a minor setback for them,” San Miguel coach Leo Austria said, when asked how he felt such a come-from-behind win could affect the psyche of the enemy in the short series. “They (KaTropa) still have a chance, but it will be very tough for them [to win two straight games].”
Renaldo Balkman scored 36 points, June Mar Fajardo added 27 and the duo did most of the damage in the final half where they combined for 40.
The San Miguel import also tossed in twin digits in each of the last two periods.
Marcio Lassiter fired 26 and Arwind Santos was the last player in twin digits for Austria with 10.
The Beermen gun for a place in the Final Four against either Alaska or sister team Magnolia with a win in Game 2 set Wednesday also at the Big Dome.
Barangay Ginebra also took a 1-0 lead in its series with Meralco, 88-81.
Justin Brownlee scored 25 points and had nine rebounds and six assists in leading the Kings, while the Bolts were led by the 15 points of Baser Amer and import Arinze Onuaku’s 12 points and 18 rebounds.
“Their backs are now against the wall,” Austria went on in describing the KaTropa, who opened up with the first 10 points before bloating it to a 46-23 lead early in the second period.
The big lead was still not enough to keep the Beermen from charging back as Austria believes his players are on the right frames of mind.
“They were all focused, and they knew how to get back,” Austria said of his Beermen, the reigning all-Filipino champions who are shooting for a repeat here to get another chance at an elusive Triple Crown sweep.
RR Pogoy and Joshua Smith led the KaTropa with 17 points each, though the burly TNT import fouled out with 3:39 to play after picking up a sixth foul.
The 6-foot-9 Smith was whistled for a fourth foul in the third and rode the bench for a good chunk of the critical stretches.
“It was scary,” Austria said of the slow San Miguel start. “I didn’t think we could come back.”
The KaTropa dropped 40 first quarter points only to be held to just 22 in the payoff frame.
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