SAN Miguel Beer again showed its versatility in surging past Phoenix Pulse 92-82 Monday to take a commanding 2-0 lead in their PBA Philippine Cup semifinals series at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Marcio Lassiter scored nine of his game-high 24 points in the pivotal fourth quarter and got plenty of help from the likes of Alex Cabagnot, Terrence Romeo and Chris Ross in completing the Beermen's charge from an otherwise tight ballgame.
June Mar Fajardo was also big with 19 points and a game-high 18 rebounds as SMB bucked the early ejection of Christian Standhardinger to follow up its 100-88 victory in the best-of-seven series opener last Saturday.
"We're lucky we were able to escape from this game," said Beermen coach Leo Austria, whose team trailed by as much as 12 points early before finding its rhythm from the third quarter on.
"We knew from the start that this would be a hard game. Very evident in the first half. Everything that we do, they knew how to stop us. Fortunately, our players refused to lose. They know the importance of this game, maybe because of their experience," added Austria.
That was typified most by Cabagnot, whose fastbreak layup shattered the game's eighth and last deadlock at 76-all.
Ross followed suit with a triple and, after Alex Malalri and Jason Perkins moved Phoenix within 80-81, Lassiter boomed in his own shot from deep to practically take the wind out of the Fuel Masters' sails.
Calvin Abueva topscored for Phoenix with 16 points on top of 10 rebounds and six assists. But he also had seven turnovers and also practically sealed the team's doom after committing his sixth foul off Fajardo, 1:10 left.
Instead of proceeding to the bench, Abueva immediately went to the locker room and was slapped with a technical for delay of game, which Cabagnot translated into a freebie that made it an 85-80 count.
Matthew Wright, RJ Jazul, Perkins and Justin Chua finished with at least 12 points each as Phoenix was left pondering its next move during the Holy Week break the league takes after Tuesday's game.
Solving SMB's own defense should be a priority since the Fuel Masters were held to only 17 points in the third period and 19 in the fourth canto.
The next SMB-Phoenix game is on Easter Sunday also at the Big Dome.
Making the win more impressive is the fact the Beermen pulled it off despite Standhardinger getting thrown out for an F2 he committed on Abueva during a rebounding scuffle, still 6:10 left in the second quarter and the Fuel Masters ahead 35-26.
Led by Von Pessumal, Lassiter and Fajardo, SMB managed to come back from a 28-40 deficit and finally caught up first at 63 at the end of the third period.
"Even though we were struggling, their lead is not in double figures and they (Beermen) know it is manageable," related Austria. "With their experience they know how to get back and that's what happened." (NC)
San Miguel 92 - Lassiter 24, Fajardo 19, Romeo 14, Cabagnot 8, Pessumal 8, Santos 7, Ross 7, Tubid 3, Standhardinger 2, Rosser 0, Nabong 0,
Phoenix 82 - Abueva 16, Wright 13, Perkins 12, Chua 12, Jazul 12, Mallari 8, Intal 4, Marcelo 2, Kramer 2, Mendoza 1.
Quarters: 13-21, 37-46, 63-63, 92-82.