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.