SMB shows poise, sets up Finals duel vs TNT

San Miguel just thrives in pressure-packed moments.

Photo from PBA

The Beermen showed much resolve against the gritty Meraclo Bolts, hacking out a 100-89 win to book a return trip to the Finals in the 2022 Philippine Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum on Wednesday, Aug. 17.

SMB erased the bitter taste of its Game 6 loss where it surrendered a double-digit lead in the final four minutes of the game, this time repelling another comeback bid from a resilient Meralco side behind the timely hits from June Mar Fajardo, Jericho Cruz and Vic Manuel to arrange a title showdown against TNT in its first Finals appearance in the all-Filipino conference since winning the "five-peat" in 2019.

CJ Perez made up for his crucial free throw miss in Game 6 with an all-around brilliance of 18 points, nine assists and four rebounds while Fajardo dropped 29 points and 14 rebounds. Marcio Lassiter chipped in with 16 points on three triples while Manuel added 13.

The Beermen’s coast-to-coast win, however, didn’t come without a scare as the Bolts, banking on the same resiliency that allowed them to force the sudden death, unleashed a blazing 17-5 run early in the fourth quarter that cut the lead which went to as high as 23 points in the third frame to just 10, 84-74.

SMB did just enough to prevent Meralco from breaking through the double-digit barrier as Simon Enciso nailed a triple before Fajardo and Manuel scored on back-to-back layups to restore order for the Beermen.

Cliff Hodge paced the Meralco with 23 points and eight boards while Chris Newsome and Aaron Black, after spearheading the Bolts in Game 6, were limited to just 14 and 13 points, respectively.

It was Lassiter who set the table for the wire-to-wire win as he went off with three triples right in the first quarter alone while the Beermen’s defense was all over the Bolts who just couldn’t buy a single basket in the first nine minutes of the game.

SMB took a 26-12 lead at the end of the opening frame and even stretched it to 20, 34-14, early in the second quarter. Meralco then embarked on an 11-0 surge behind the efforts of Black and Cliff Hodge to bring the lead back down to single digits, 34-25.

The Beermen, however, managed to restore order and keep a 45-31 advantage at the break before building the biggest lead of the game at 23, 70-43, in the third quarter.