San Miguel Beer, despite the absence of import Tyler Wilkerson, beat Rain or Shine 104-98 in Game 3 of the best-of-five semifinals of the Philippine Basketball Association Season 41 Commissioner’s Cup at the Philsports Arena in Pasig City on Thursday.
Guard Marcio Lassiter stepped up in Wilkerson’s absence posting his second career best of 30 points on 11-of-16 shooting in the field including five three-pointers plus five rebounds and four steals. Rain or Shine still leads the series 1-2.
“I have to praise my players, they want to win even though they know that we don’t have an import this game,” said San Miguel Beer coach Leo Austria during the postgame interview. “Thank God we proved something. It’s my decision not to let our import play.”
Point guard Alex Cabagnot finished with 28 points on 10-of-19 shooting in the field plus six assists while Arwind Santos contributed 18 points plus seven rebounds. Center June Mar Fajardo notched 13 points, nine rebounds and four blocks while Chris Ross chipped in 12 assists and five steals also for the Beermen.
“What I want from them is just play their game. Hard to win three straight games without an import and we’re lucky we won tonight. I hope this will be a rallying point for them. One game at a time,” Austria added.
The Elasto Painters maintained a slim lead in the first half, 53-51, but the Beermen, through a 29-17 run in the third frame, seized the lead, 80-70, going into the fourth quarter.
The Beermen maintained their composure for the rest of the game preventing a three-game sweep by the Elasto Painters.
Jericho Cruz posted a career-high 25 points in addition to nine rebounds and four steals to lead Rain or Shine.
San Miguel Beer and Rain or Shine will clash anew in Game 4 on Sunday at the Araneta Coliseum.
Two nights after losing 96-98 to Rain or Shine in Game 2, the San Miguel Beer management announced that it would play with an all-Filipino cast in Game 3 because it fired import Wilkerson for misbehavior in Game 2.
“The coaches, with the support of the management, decided to play all-Filipino today and eventually end our relationship with Tyler Wilkerson,” San Miguel Beer team manager Gee Abanilla said in a statement before the opening of Game 3.
“We appreciate him bringing us this far in this conference but in the end, it is not really all about winning or losing games per se,” he added.
Wilkerson, who just lost his opportunity to win the Commissioner’s Best Import award, immediately left the dugout after an altercation with the coaches and management staff of San Miguel Beer following the Beermen’s loss in Game 2 at the Araneta Coliseum.
Wilkerson is leading the Best Import race with 36.5 points, 14.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game average through the elimination and quarterfinals.
Rain or Shine took Game 1 via a come-from-behind 98-94 win.
Meanwhile, The Meralco Bolts and the Alaska Aces will meet in Game 3 of the other best-of-five semifinals match at the Araneta Coliseum today. The Aces took Game 1 (97-94) but Meralco won Game 2 (102-97).
“It is down to a best of three so it is a must win game,” said Meralco coach Norman Black. “Our focus will continue to be on our defense as we continue to look for any adjustments they might make. On offense, we must limit our turnovers.”
“I think Game 3 will be another battle. Nothing will ever be easy against Meralco and we have to make some adjustments,” said Alaska coach Alex Compton. “Our defense has got to be much better and our execution of offense late in the game will be crucial.”
JOSEF T. RAMOS