San Miguel Beer import Tyler Wilkerson may not have scored as much as NLEX counterpart Al Thornton, but he found other ways to win.
That showed when Wilkerson made some crucial plays in the third overtime to power the Beermen to a 131-127 thriller over the Road Warriors Tuesday in the Oppo-PBA Commissioner’s Cup at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
In a match that should go down as a classic Wilkerson scored 58 points, 11 less than Thornton’s output, but still proved the biggest factor in the final extension and helped SMB not only clinch a quarterfinals berth with its big rebound from an 84-110 loss to Barangay Ginebra last Sunday.
More important, the Beermen remained in the thick of the hunt for a top two finish in the eliminations and the win-once advantage that goes with it in the quarterfinals.
Wilkerson made sure of that as his two feeds to June Mar Fajardo enabled the reigning back-to-back MVP to score five of his seven points in the third OT before the former notched a pair of baskets himself to make it a 129-123 game, only 57.6 seconds to go.
Like what it has done for majority of the game, NLEX refused to fold so easily.
Thornton capped his heroic performance with a layup and Sean Anthony scored on his own drive to bring the Road Warriors within two, still 23.6 seconds left. They then committed two quick fouls to stop the clock and send Marcio Lassiter to the stripe, but that ploy backfired.
Lassiter, an 87 percent free throw shooter in the tournament, canned both charities to peg a 131-127 count that stood when Thornton, Garvo Lanete and Asi Taulava missed their respective stabs at the basket.
“Nag-ka-cramps na ko,” joked SMB coach Leo Austria following the game that was only the 11th triple OT in the 41-year-old league’s history and from where his team emerged with its sixth win in nine games as the Beermen tied idle Alaska in second.
“I have to give credit to the players,” added Austria. “They really want to win. Maybe because of their experience, gusto nila manalo kahit napakahirap ng game. This is like a championship.”
NLEX sure looked like it was playing for dear life as the loss dropped it to an even 5-5 slate and eighth place. The Road Warriors, who were looking for a third straight win. must now prevail against the Aces next Friday to at least secure inclusion among the eight teams advancing to the next round.
For SMB it must still win over Phoenix on Sunday and Tropang TNT also next Friday to realize a top two finish.
Wilkerson sure could use some well-deserved rest.
Playing without relief from the start of the second half on Wilkerson also finished with 13 rebounds, seven assists and five steals while Alex Cabagnot had his own double-double of 20 points and 11 assists. Fajardo bucked foul trouble to finish with 18 points and 16 rebounds.
Thornton also had a gamehigh 19 rebounds while Anthony wound up with 24 points and 18 boards as a reliever. Taulava was the only other NLEX player in double digits with 13 and 11.
Despite being saddled by four fouls early Thornton even had the chance to win it outright for NLEX in the second OT, but the buzzer sounded while he still had the ball in his hands for a two-handed jam.
It was also Thornton who forced the first extension when he nailed a buzzer-beating triple for a 99-all count and promptly had seven points to give NLEX a 106-103 lead.
Cabagnot’s triple and Wilkerson’s charities put SMB ahead 108-106, but Anthony’s left-handed drive knotted the count and the game went into a second extension when Wilkerson missed a looping corner trey.