Alex Cabagnot marked his return to action with a clutch game-winner as San Miguel drew first blood against feisty NorthPort, 88-87, Sunday evening in Game 1 of their best-of-three 2021 PBA Philippine Cup quarterfinals series at the DHVSU Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.
The "Crunchman," playing in his first game since suffering a torn meniscus and sprained ligaments in his left knee last July 28, nailed the pull-up game-winner over Sidney Onwubere's outstretched arms with 1.5 seconds remaining, the biggest basket in his 20-point showing.
The Batang Pier still had some time to make something happen, but Onwubere missed his desperation heave.
In the prior possession, upstart NorthPort seemed to be on the verge of a statement win after Robert Bolick launched and drilled a 35-footer over Chris Ross to give the Batang Pier an 87-86 lead with 5.1 ticks remaining. In the ensuing timeout, though, he was subbed out for defensive purposes and was unable to come back onto the floor.
"I knew Alex is familiar with that kind of situation," recalled Beermen mentor Leo Austria of the final play. "Alex, he knew what kind of situation we were facing. It was less than five seconds, he knew it. He counted the time down, calculating it."
The opening frame was a back-and-forth affair, as made evident by four lead changes and five deadlocks. Cabagnot broke the 19-all tally just before the buzzer sounded, courtesy of an up-and-under move for an open layup. Ross also dropped 10 points in the first, including two from downtown.
After a still see-saw second quarter, San Miguel emerged with a 44-43 lead at halftime. Then in the third, the Beermen manufactured a 13-3 run spearheaded by Cabagnot for a 59-48 lead, which widened some more to 13, 63-50, off of a Ross alley-oop.
Sean Anthony took over for the Batang Pier in the final frame, scoring seven consecutive points to near the upstarts to just down three, 67-70. However, they were dealt a big blow when the Fil-Am swingman went down at the 6:02 mark after rolling his left ankle.
San Miguel would lead again by double digits, 83-72, before NorthPort unleashed its final charge capped off by Bolick's go-ahead shot.
Anthony paced the Batang Pier offense with 16 points, eight boards, and four assists, while Bolick, before his big basket, had an off-night, scoring 13 points on 5/14 shooting, on top of seven assists.
On the other hand, fierce foe CJ Perez wound up with 14 markers along with six rebounds in his playoff debut for SMB.
SAN MIGUEL (88) -- Cabagnot 20, Tautuaa 15, Perez 14, Ross 12, Fajardo 10, Santos 9, Lassiter 8, Pessumal 0, Zamar 0, Gotladera 0.
NORTHPORT (87) -- Anthony 16, Slaughter 15, Malonzo 13, Bolick 13, Taha 10, Ferrer 8, Onwubere 7, Elorde 3, Rike 2, Balanza 0, Lanete 0.
Quarter Scores: 21-19, 44-43, 65-60, 88-87.
- The game saw the lead change 10 times and the score get tied eight.
- San Miguel's reserves came through with 49 points over NorthPort's 29 - with Cabagnot being the difference.
-Cabagnot arrived a few days ago in Pampanga and didn't have any practice time with the Beermen prior to the game.