Big men Renaldo Balkman and June Mar Fajardo and the backcourt pair of Alex Cabagnot and Chris Ross delivered the goods as they foiled the Aces’ determined bid to force a 1-1 tie in their best-of-five semi-finals.
With a repeat of their 92-79 win Saturday, the Beermen have now three shots at the best-of-seven finals against the winner of the Barangay Ginebra-Rain or Shine semis matchup.
June Mar Fajardo and his teammates take their first shot at the finale at 7 p.m.Wednesday, also at the Big Dome.
“I have to commend their coaching staff. They did a good job for us to exert extra effort to overcome what they’re doing in this game,” said SMB coach Leo Austria.
The Beermen stared at a 16-point deficit at one point in the second period and needed to mount a rally to score what’s actually a sixth straight win in playoff matches versus the Aces.
The Kings expect an even bigger threat from the Elasto Painters Tuesday when they tangle anew in Game 2 of their best-of-five duel at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
It’s now a matter of Ginebra rolling with the punch and promptly countering when needed, according to coach Tim Cone.
“That’s been our MO (modus operandi), being able to make big plays at the right time,” said Cone following his team’s 102-89 victory in the series opener.
“So far, so good,” added Cone. “I hope we’d continue to do it.”
Fully aware the E-Painters have what it takes to rebound strong, center Greg Slaughter was quick to offer words of caution to his Kings teammates. “It’s relieving to get the first win, but we can’t celebrate it too much,” he said.
“We got one day and we play again and it could easily be evened up the next game if we’re not prepared. After winning like that, I expect Rain or Shine to bounce back really hard. We just got to be prepared and we can’t let our guard down from the beginning of the game.”
Indeed, Ginebra already had a taste of what Rain or Shine could offer.
Last Sunday the E-Painters recovered from a slow start to trim an 18-point deficit to just seven at the half. They even came closest to within four in the third quarter and were down by just five early in the fourth period.
The pair of Justin Brownlee and Jeff Chan led a balanced offensive by the Kings which was most evident in a searing 21-2 run over a seven-minute span in the fourth quarter that fully put the game away.
Before the Elasto Painters knew what hit them, they were behind by 78-102 and were left looking forward to bouncing back in Game 2 of the best-of-five series Tusday.
Reggie Johnson led Rain or Shine with 30 points and 13 rebounds while James Yap added 15 and Ed Daquioag 10.
The likes of Raymond Almazan, Chris Tiu and Maverick Ahanmisi did not produce their usual points, however, with Almazan even going scoreless.
In contrast, Ginebra’s offensive display was headlined by Brownlee’s game highs of 35 points and 14 rebounds on top of nine assists.
Chan also came off the bench to explode for 21 points, 10 coming in the final canto that broke the Kings off from an 81-76 count and fully quashed the hopes of his original PBA team.
SMB coach Leo Austria practically rotated only eight men who all responded with heads-up performances as they tore apart an Alaska team losing significant strength on the absence of Chris Banchero and Calvin Abueva.
The Beermen left nothing to chance and made it five in a row in playoff matches versus the Aces following their epic fightback from 0-3 down in the 2016 Philippine Cup Finals.
Austria said they just wanted to make sure to get the crucial head start in the series.
“In any series, it’s always important to win Game One. We wanted to win the game to dictate the tempo and for them to think hard for their adjustment,” said Austria.
“We came out wanting to put pressure on them. We still need two more. We’re gonna take care of things, and we’ll play with more energy,” said Marcio Lassiter, one of six Beermen churning out double-digit outputs in their Game One victory.
June Mar Fajardo top scored with 17 points while also hauling 11 rebounds, Renaldo Balkman put up 13 markers and 11 boards in a double-double game while Lassiter, Alex Cabagnot, Arwind Santos and Kelly Nabong added at least 11 points each.
Refusing to be daunted by an early 23-point deficit, the Beermen grittily came charging back to beat the TNT KaTropa 121-110 Monday for the headstart in their quarterfinals duel at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Renaldo Balkman notched game-highs of 36 points and 16 rebounds, but equal credit should also be given June Mar Fajardo and Marcio Lassiter in giving the Beermen the chance to close out the best-of-three series Wednesday.
Fajardo wound up with his own double-double of 27 points and 13 boards and, more importantly, drew the last three fouls from Josh Smith that forced the massive TNT import to ride the bench in the final 3:39 of the game.
Lassiter, meanwhile, aided Balkman and Fajardo in keeping SMB not only afloat but in the thick of the fight despite a 23-46 deficit in the second quarter before finishing with 26 points, six rebounds and four assists.
“That game was really scary,” admitted Beermen coach Leo Austria, before cautioning that TNT has the tools to bounce back and force a decider.
The Kings overcame a defensive struggle and made it six in a row in a continued run after their woeful 1-5 start in the midseason tourney.
Joe Devance, LA Tenorio and Justin Brownlee hit the important baskets that eventually got the Gin Kings past the Bolts in the tough game marked by 11 deadlocks and nine lead changes.
And with the victory, the Kings now have two cracks to make the Final Four. They take their first shot at it at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday also at the Big Dome.
“Meralco has done a great job playing tough defense all conference, and they turned this game into a defensive struggle. We found it difficult to find rhythm but we got a little bit in the third and we carried it over to the fourth,” said Ginebra coach Tim Cone.
“Justin (Brownlee) was a little rusty today and give Meralco the credit. He put up numbers but he’s a volume shooter tonight,” Cone also said.
It’s the duel between the second seed and the seventh seed, with the higher-ranked squad taking its first of two cracks at a Final Four passage.
The Aces, the No. 2 best performer in the elims next to the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, enjoy the crucial advantage, making them confident of advancing to the semis for the first time in a long while.
But the Hotshots also love their chance, though needing to win two in a row to make the Final Four.
“It will be a dogfight,” said Magnolia coach Chito Victolero.
“We’re the underdog, but we’re ready to battle and my players know what it takes to win this game. We’ll take it one one game at a time,” Victolero added.
By virtue of topping the elims, Rain or Shine needs only to win once over eighth-ranked GlobalPort to make it through to the semi-finals.
It would have to be one giant leap, according to E-Painters coach Caloy Garcia. “We have to want it more tomorrow,” he said.
“We cannot think about the twice-to-beat advantage.”
Garcia has ample reason to be wary.
Notwithstanding their finish in the elims, the Batang Pier have been the epitome of tenacity in the mid-season conference, ranking among their victims the likes of pre-tournament favorites San Miguel Beer and Meralco.
It’s just a matter of putting together one solid stretch, which GlobalPort coach Pido Jarencio hopes would now come in these playoffs and more so against Rain or Shine.