A 26-point lead could not give San Miguel Beer the desired result against Kia Friday, but three clutch plays in the stretch did.
Marcio Lassiter struck for five straight points inside the last 47 seconds, lifting the Beermen to a 108-106 thriller over the Picanto that assured the defending champion's claim to a top two spot in the PBA Philippine Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Arwind Santos and Chris Ross did their part in turning the tide in SMB's favor, resulting in an escape that gave the team a tournament-best overall record of 8-2.
Even if the Beermen wind up the eliminations with a loss to Rain or Shine on Wednesday, their top two finish and a twice-to-beat advantage over either the No. 7 or eighth-ranked team is secure.
But even coach Leo Austria admitted his team would have suffered a big blow had his crew not kept their poise after blowing an 89-63 third quarter lead and then staring at a 103-106 deficit in the last 62 seconds.
"This could have been a disaster for us going to the playoffs," stated Austria.
"Fortunately, this win gives us one of the two slots. As I told my team, whether it be a 30-point or a one-point win, a win is a win."
The Beermen has Lassiter to thank for bailing them out.
Lassiter's corner triple tied the game up at 106 before turning Santos' defensive gem and Ross' nifty inbound pass from the sideline into an undergoal stab for the game-winner.
"That play is an association between Marcio and Chris Ross," related Austria of the play he designed in his final timeout, only 1.8 ticks left.
"That is an option na nandiyan and because of their basketball sense nangyari. So nakakita ng opportunity, nakita nila advantage."
Santos wound up with a personal conference-high 27 points and 12 rebounds, a performance he saved with a block on Glen Khobuntin that led to SMB's final possession.
Lassiter finished with 22 points, Von Pessumal 11 and Yancy de Ocampo, starting in lieu of the absent June Mar Fajardo who is on Gilas duty, added 10 points.
Ross only had nine points but issued 10 dimes.
Kia officially bowed out of the tourney with a league-worst 1-10 slate. But not after a final performance worthy of an upper tier team.
Khobuntin wound up with 15 points in leading the Picanto, who were thought to be just going through the motions after falling behind by as many as 22 points in the first half and by 26 going to the game's last 14 minutes.
Not even the departure of Jackson Corpuz, who had 12 points and seven boards, who sprained his left ankle during a rebound play, could deter Kia.
Khobuntin led the fightback with 11 of his points in the fourth quarter and even ex-SMB players Ronald Tubid and Rashawn McCarthy did their part as the Picanto wrested the upper hand 106-103.(NC)
SAN MIGUEL 108 - Santos 27, Lassiter 22, Pessumal 11, De Ocampo 10, Heruela 9, Ross 9, Espinas 8, Vigil 5, Ganuelas-Rosser 5, Mamaril 2, Agovida 0, Lanete 0, Semerad 0.
KIA 106 - Khobuntin 15, Corpuz 12, Gabriel 10, McCarthy 10, Yee 10, Cabrera 9, Celda 8, Camson 8, Tubid 7, Ababou 6, Jamon 5, Escoto 4, Lastimosa 2, Sara 0, Galanza 0.
Quarter scores: 29-23, 61-41, 91-71, 108-106.