For a third straight game, San Miguel brandished its depth and found success. Only on Sunday night, the traditional powerhouse did so to dethrone Barangay Ginebra and march on to another trip to a Philippine Basketball Association championship series.
The Beermen, led by impressive stretch big import Bennie Boatwright Jr. and spark plug Jericho Cruz, slipped past the Gin Kings, 94-91, to tab the first seat in the Commissioner’s Cup finalé.
Boatwright finished with 26 points and 13 rebounds as Cruz fired 17 off the bench to lead a second-half effort that kept the crowd darlings in catch-up mode until the final horn at Mall of Asia Arena.
“It was just composure,” head coach Jorge Gallent said of the triumph before an animated, partisan crowd of 15,126 at the bayside venue. While the Beermen’s steely nerves pulled them through, there was no denying that the club’s outrageous depth played a key role in the three-game sweep that was payback for their swift defeat at the hands of the Gin Kings in the last Governors’ Cup.
And Ginebra’s Tim Cone pointed a finger at where they came up short.
“When you’re [beaten] 3-0, the other team is doing something right. And like I’ve said, they were really well-coached and they’re playing at a high level,” he told reporters with a somber tone as he made his way out of the team’s locker room.
“That’s a tough, tough team. They’re very deep as well. On the first night, it was CJ (Perez), and the second night was (Marcio) Lassiter. Marcio had a great [game] again, but Cruz stepped up and hurt us tonight,” he went on.
Lassiter added 14 points that game. And with Boatwright Jr. and Cruz playing splendidly, reigning Most Valuable Player June Mar Fajardo hardly needed to score. He did, however, finish with 11 points to match Perez’s 11 as the Beermen booked a 44th Finals appearance.
“They’re well-balanced. They’ve got the in-and-out [option], and they’ve got weapons around the two main guys. Like I’ve said, tough to beat,” Cone said of the Beermen.
“Our guys played hard. They played as hard as they could from the beginning. They couldn’t have played any harder. We did what we could. and as I’ve said, they made shots. Boatwright Jr., coming into this series, was averaging 45 points a game.”
The final hurdle for the Beermen’s 29th title will either be sister team Magnolia or Phoenix Super LPG.
That series is at 2-1 in favor of the Hotshots, who went down in flames after a 103-85 Game 3 defeat also on Sunday.
And Cone, now reduced to a spectator, feels it’s the other two teams that should be worried.
“Any of those teams are gonna have a heck of a hard time beating San Miguel,” he said. INQ