SMB 97 – TNT 86 (Series tied 2-2)
The San Miguel Beermen once again showed why they’re the reigning champions of the PBA Philippine Cup. They continue to have all the necessary tools, the maturity, and the pedigree, to take the title for a third straight time.
On Tuesday night, Chris Ross’ scoring explosion was a testament of the Beermen’s incredible depth and ability to adjust in-game.
Ross had a career-high 31 points on 9-for-19 shooting, including 5-for-11 from downtown, and added five rebounds, five assists, and two steals. The Beermen have now evened things up with TNT KaTropa with two wins apiece.
On a team that features June Mar Fajardo, Arwind Santos, Alex Cabagnot, and Marcio Lassiter, Ross showed that he’s just as valuable as his fellow stars. Ross has always been known as a defensive gem, but he’s also proven time and time again his talent for knocking down big three-pointers.
SMB has used the three-guard combination of Cabagnot-Lassiter-Ross in certain situations throughout their multiple title runs, including this series. This time, a huge chuck of Ross’ production came in the third period where the three guards went to work to help SMB obtain a huge lead. Completing SMB’s lineup were Santos and Fajardo.
TNT started the third period with a zone defense to slow down the touches of Fajardo in the paint. With Troy Rosario and Mo Tautuaa clogging the shaded lane, the Beermen couldn’t give the ball to their MVP. To some extent, the zone was effective, limiting Fajardo to just 15 points on 11 shots. However, this was when Ross, Cabagnot, and Lassiter did their damage.
The trio moved the ball from side-to-side, finding cracks and creases in the TNT zone. It also helped that all three guards can shoot the ball from perimeter. With SMB passing the ball decisively, Ross was able to get a ton of good looks.
As a whole, SMB finished with a 44 percent shooting clip, 10 triples, and 22 assists.
For TNT, Larry Fonacier was the high-point man, scoring 15 points while Jayson Castro chipped in with 13.
Coach Nash Racela and his team now have to make key adjustments moving towards game five. How do you stop Fajardo, and at the same protect the perimeter from Lassiter, Cabagnot, and Ross? When TNT did go back to their man-to-man defense, they were able to slow down the ball movement and outside shooting. But SMB, being a savvy, veteran team, made them pay by going directly at Fajardo. Facing the Beermen has always been a pick-your-poison type of scenario.
With a crucial game five coming up, the Beermen will look to use all their weapons – including Ross – to take the series lead.