Defending champion San Miguel Beer needed a big third quarter to overcome a TNT side without its best player, 96-83, in Game 7 of their 2017 PBA Philippine Cup semifinals Monday at Mall of Asia Arena.
Chris Ross fired 11 of his 18 points in the pivotal third period, where the Beermen outscored the KaTropa, who played minus the injured Jayson Castro (hamstring), 36-21.
June Mar Fajardo and Arwind Santos each had a double-double as both combined for 44 points and 32 rebounds.
“First of all, I would like to congratulate TNT especially coach Nash (Racela) for a job well done. They really brought out the best in us and fortunately, my players didn’t give up,” said SMB head coach Leo Austria.
“I know from the start of the series this will be a tough series for us. If there’s a team that we fear, it’s TNT because they are loaded with a lot of talent.”
It was a tale of two halves for the Beermen, who came out firing in the second half led by Ross, Santos and Fajardo. They extended a two-point halftime lead to 20, 77-57, on a basket by Gabby Espinas with under a minute left in the third quarter.
Larry Fonacier had 14 points to pace the KaTropa, who trimmed the deficit down to single digits, 92-83, on a 3-pointer by Troy Rosario before Fajardo and Santos sank four free throws inside the final minute to weather TNT’s late rally.
TNT stayed in step with SMB in the first half but just didn’t have enough firepower without Castro to sustain its play and match the Beermen’s high octane offense in the last two quarters.
“We’re lucky in Game 6 they didn’t have Rosario, that may be a factor. Tonight they don’t have Castro and that’s a big factor for us,” Austria said.
The Beermen, who are gunning for their third straight all-Filipino title, clinched their fourth finals appearance in the last seven conferences.
San Miguel will face either Barangay Ginebra or Star in another best-of-seven series, which tips off on Friday at MOA Arena.