Terrence Jones had been the talk of the town all series long. Enter Chris McCullough big time now.
McCullough exploded for 19 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter, personally rallying San Miguel from 16 points down en route to a 99-94 triumph as the Beermen grabbed the crucial 3-2 lead in the PBA Commissioner's Cup best-of-seven finale Wednesday night before a mammoth crowd at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The sweet-shooting SMB import himself made the go-ahead basket, 95-94, on a strong drive off a phalanx of defenders and essentially clinched the stirring come-from-behind triumph on two freebies with 13.3 ticks to go.
The KaTropa went to Troy Rosario for their attempt to force overtime. As Rosario's three-point try sailed short then Chris Ross grabbed possession, the Beermen and their supporters whooped it up in celebration of the tough, vital victory giving them two shots at wrapping up the crown in the midseason tourney.
The Beermen take their first shot in Game Six at 7 p.m. Friday also at the Big Dome.
"Let's play good basketball and go to win the championship," said McCullough.
The Beermen did play good basketball in the last nine minutes of the game, enabling them to wipe out a 16-point deficit at 69-85. McCullough was terrific in that stretch.
"Playing defense helped us. We did it one stop at a time," said McCullough, a lethal force on both ends, coming through with 35 points on 13-of-28 field clip and 8-of-9 charities and adding 22 rebounds, four assists, three blocks and one steal against seven turnovers.
Jones was the dominant man through the first three quarters, allowing the KaTropa to set the pace most of the time. However, Jones' crucial turnovers and misses at the finish put to naught his near triple-double effort with 35 markers, 17 boards and eight assists plus four blocks and two steals.
Now, Jones and his teammates need to win two in a row to end San Miguel's grand slam chase.
By the half, Jones had made 22 points, including a jam from his own brilliant alley-oop off the board that gave them an 11-point spread at 47-36.
But they went silent in a little while from there, and it was an opening pounded by Terrence Romeo to get SMB to within two at 45-47 with a minute left in the second quarter.
Romeo sizzled with 15 points off the bench in the first half where they trailed by four at 45-49. McCullough had 15 rebounds and 10 markers but committed five turnovers.
Then the KaTropa regained control again in the third only to throw it away in the end. (SB)
San Miguel 99 - McCullough 35, Romeo 22, Fajardo 16, Pessumal 9, Ross 7, Cabagnot 4, Standhardinger 4, Santos 2.
TNT 94 - Jones 35, Castro 18, Rosario 16, Pogoy 12, Trollano 7, D. Semerad 6, Taha 0, Reyes 0, Heruela 0, Magat 0.
Quarterscores: 22-28, 45-49, 69-80, 99-94.