SMB ousts Meralco, makes finals vs TNT

San Miguel Beer punched the last ticket to the finals after repulsing Meralco, 100-89, in the do-or-die Game 7 of the Philippine Basketball Association Philippine Cup best-of-seven semifinals Wednesday night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Fired up to end their three-year drought, June Mar Fajardo posted his best playoff game with 29 points, 14 rebounds, and two assists to arrange a race-to-four title duel against defending champion TNT Tropang Giga starting on Sunday.

It will be the first time that San Miguel and the Tropang Giga will face each other in the championship round since the Beermen ruled the Commissioner’s Cup in 2019.

CJ Perez led the supporting cast with 18 points and nine rebounds, Marcio Lassiter had 16 points and four rebounds, while Jericho Cruz and Vic Manuel combined for 25 points off the bench.

“It was a grueling series. We’ve been expecting this intensity since the start, but we relied on June Mar and we focused on their weaknesses,” San Miguel tactician Leo Austria said.

“We were able to contain their guards and starters. I told our players that this is the time for my new players to develop their attitude for a championship series.”

“We wanted our players to show their killer instinct and never stop scoring.”

While Meralco missed its first 11 attempts, the Beermen relied on the hot hands of Lassiter and Fajardo for a 14-point cushion at the intermission, 45-31.

Perez compounded the Bolts’ struggles by spearheading a 13-4 run that pushed the Beermen to their biggest lead at 23, 70-47, 2:42 in the third.

But Meralco was not going to hand the game on a silver platter.

Chris Banchero drilled back-to-back triples before Aaron Black sneaked a daredevil drive that kept them within 10, 95-85, 1:30 remaining.

Fajardo, however, kept the Beermen’s poise down the stretch with three straight points that ultimately iced the game with 39 seconds left.

Cliff Hodge’s team-high 23 points and eight rebounds went down the drain.

The Scores:
SAN MIGUEL (100) — Fajardo 29, Perez 18, Lassiter 16, Manuel 13, Cruz 12, Tautuaa 7, Enciso 5, Brondial 0.
MERALCO (89) — Hodge 23, Newsome 14, Black 13, Almazan 12, Banchero 8, Hugnatan 8, Quinto 7, Maliksi 4, Pasaol 0, Jose 0, Pascual 0.
QUARTERS: 26-12, 45-31, 73-54, 100-89.

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