July 22, 2018, 10:44 pm
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San Mig fightback smothers TNT

 SAN Miguel Beer displayed gritty determination to defend its PBA Commissioner’s Cup crown to the fullest yesterday, fighting back from 23 points down to beat TNT 121-110 to gain 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 tomorrow.

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 aided Balkman and Fajardo in keeping SMB not only afloat but remain 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.

“This is a big win for us because it gave us a big boost in morale and confidence,” said Beermen coach Leo Austria, while cautioning that TNT has the tools to bounce back.

“They still have a chance. This is a short series. We have the advantage, but that is nothing because I know TNT is very competitive and they know what’s at stake,” Austria pointed out.

It was not just Smith getting into foul trouble and eventually fouling out that did TNT in.

Injuries to Jericho Cruz (right hand) and Roger Pogoy (right ankle), plus a suspected one on Troy Rosario (possible head concussion), also helped stymie the KaTropa’s charge, which started out so well before completely sputtering in the end.

Pogoy still wound up with 17 points, to match Smith’s output, but he had to go out for good with still 2:14 left after landing awkwardly during a rebound try.

Cruz, who scored five of TNT’s points in a 10-0 start, saw action for only the first 6:18 and did not return.

Kelly Williams, Terrence Romeo, Anthony Semerad, Jayson Castro and Don Trollano tried their best to stoke the KaTropa’s charge, but all only partly succeeded and they all wilted in the face of SMB’s juggernaut.

Completely turning the tide in the Beermen’s favor was their 16-0 assault for a 119-106 count, highlighted by Balkman’s six points and Fajardo’s five, in an almost five-minute stretch in which the KaTropa went 0-of-7 from the field and committed two turnovers.

After scoring 40 points in the opening quarter on a torrid 16-for-29 field shooting, including 8-for-16 from deep), TNT finished making just 44 of 101 tries.

In contrast, SMB wound up with a 41-for-83 clip after starting out 9-for-21.
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