SAN Miguel Beer started out strong and still had enough at the finish in fashioning a 100-88 victory over Phoenix Saturday for the headstart in their PBA Philippine Cup semifinal duel at the Mall of Asia Arena.
For the moment, SMB coach Leo Austria was simply glad his team managed to survive a severe test.
Alex Cabagnot scored game-highs of 26 points and seven assists while the other Beermen did their part in bucking the fouling out of June Mar Fajardo and taking the opener of the best-of-seven series.
Arwind Santos scored only nine points, all off triples, with the biggest and the last one from way out that stopped cold the Fuel Masters' fightback from 24 points down to within 82-89.
Marcio Lassiter's charities, Cabagnot's drive and Christian Standhardinger's four straight points then held Phoenix at bay and capped the Beermen's endgame surge.
The reigning four-time defending champion can go 2-0 up when the duel resumes Monday.
"I'm really thankful because coming into the game I was really worried," said Austria, whose team just had a day to prepare following a three-game quarterfinals series with TNT that ended only last Wednesday.
"We hardly had ample time to prepare while they have been practicing," added Austria.
"But my players, they were really focused."
Austria added the physicality of the Katropa series helped his players brace for a Phoenix crew known for its tough defense.
Fajardo's was the biggest scalp the Fuel Masters' D claimed as he scraped for a season-low nine points before getting slapped with his sixth foul, 3:49 to go.
Prior to that, the reigning five-time MVP suffered a bad fall following his short stab, hitting his face hard on the court.
The other Beermen picked up the slack with Chris Ross and Lassiter each adding 14 points and Standhardinger 12 and 16 rebounds.
Matthew Wright led Phoenix with 22 points and Calvin Abueva 18 and a game-high 21 boards.
Eleven of Abueva's points came in the future quarter in leading a sustained charge from as much as a 49-73 deficit.
LA Revilla's triple and Alex Mallari's drive capped that surge and brought the Fuel Masters' within seven.
Then SMB's endgame poise surfaced, as typified by Santos' dagger triple. (NC)
San Miguel 100 - Cabagnot 26, Ross 14, Lassiter 14, Standhardinger 12, Santos 9, Fajardo 9, Tubid 6, Romeo 5, Pessumal 5, Rosser 0, Nabong 0.
Phoenix 88 - Wright 22, Abueva 18, Jazul 11, Mallari 11, Revilla 7, Perkins 6, Chua 5, Marcelo 4, Intal 3, Kramer 1, Mendoza 0, Dennison 0.
Quarters: 21-27, 49-39, 81-59, 100-88.