SAN Miguel Beer used some long-distance shooting to cut short Phoenix Pulse's conference.
The Beermen boomed in 14 triples to complement their June Mar Fajardo-anchored inside game in beating the Fuel Masters 105-94 Thursday for the first finals seat in the PBA Philippine Cup at the Cuneta Astrodome.
Chris Ross and Alex Cabagnot set the tone early by combining for some deep shots before Arwind Santos, Terrence Romeo and Fajardo took SMB home after Phoenix came fighting back from 25 points down to make a fight of it in the fourth quarter.
Following their second straight win in the best-of-seven series, the Beermen were able to close the duel in just five games and are set to take on the winner of the other semis pairing pitting Magnolia Ang Pambansang Manok and Rain or Shine in another race-to-four affair that starts May 1.
"We're so grateful we're back in the finals," said coach Leo Austria, who has steered SMB to the title in the last four editions of the import-less tournament and would now be eyeing to add on to the 25 championships the league's lone remaining pioneer franchise has already won.
So elated was Austria that he could even shrug off his team's scrambling finish.
"Nu'ng lumamang kami ng over 20 points, we thought they'd give up na. Human tendency sometimes... na mag-relax. Fortunately, we have a lot of players who stepped up," said Austria.
"Iyung expectations ng marami na tatambakan, we were not after that," added Austria. "Isang point lang naman kailangan para manalo."
The six-time PBA champion coach also refused to bare whom he prefers among the Hotshots and Elasto Painters as finals foe.
"Hindi kami namimili sa kanila. Equally competitive parehong teams," said Austria, who plans to give his charges a few days off following a grueling three-week schedule that saw them battling TNT in three quarterfinals games before going through the wringer that is Phoenix.
"Credit to Phoenix, they pushed us to the limit and we love it," said Austria. "Hopefully, we could learn from these two series. I hope we could sustain our momentum going to the finals."
For a long while, the Fuel Masters did send the Beermen reeling with Matthew Wright, Justin Chua and LA Revilla leading a sustained charge that brough them back from 55-80 to within four twice, the last at 94-98, off Wright's long two.
But Matt Ganuelas-Rosser stole off Calvin Abueva, leading to a Romeo basket that gave SMB a six-point separation, 68 seconds left.
That seemed to be the final spark SMB needed as Phoenix's next harried attempts all failed to find their mark while charities by Santos, Fajardo and Cabagnot sealed the deal.
Ross led the Beermen with 24 points anchored on five triples, the same total of Cabagnot who ended up with 22 points and a gamehigh seven assists.
Fajardo notched 17 points and a game-best 16 rebounds while Santos bucked a scoreless first half to finish with his wn double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Wright also bucked a listless first half to pace Phoenix with 20 points with Chua adding 18 markers and 11 caroms and Revilla chipping in a personal conference-best 15 points on top of nine rebounds and six assists.
Sadly for the Fuel Masters, their other erstwhile leading scorer in Abueva only managed one point after missing all his seven tries from the field before getting thrown out for an F1 on Fajardo in the last 42 seconds. He was slapped with a technical in the third period.
Jason Perkins also came alive, but only briefly, in the third period for six of his eght points but he and the other Phoenix players got lost in the wake of a sustained charge by SMB that saw the defending champion stretch a 51-39 halftime lead to 72-47.
Wright, Revilla and JC Intal did manage to trim the deficit to 66-82 going to the last canto and the momentum spilled over, enabling the Fuel Masters to come within 92-96.
Santos, however, canned two charities before Wright's jumper made it more interesting going to the game's last 2:38. (NC)
SAN MIGUEL 105 - Ross 24, Cabagnot 22, Fajardo 17, Santos 12, Romeo 10, Pessumal 8, Standhardinger 5, Ganuelas-Rosser 4, Lassiter 3, Tubid 0, Nabong 0.
PHOENIX 94 - Wright 20, Chua 18, Revilla 15, Jazul 9, Perkins 8, Intal 8, Kramer 6, Mallari 4, Marcelo 3, Mendoza 2, Abueva 1, Dennison 0.
Quarters: 22-15, 51-39, 85-70, 105-94.