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San Miguel Beermen claim Game 5 win over Meralco Bolts to be on cusp of PBA Philippine Cup finals return

San Miguel Beermen now have a 3-2 lead over Meralco Bolts in the 2022 PBA Philippine Cup semifinals following a 89-78 win in Game 5 on Friday. PBA Media Bureau

San Miguel Beermen are on the cusp of their first Philippine Cup finals appearance in three years after holding off Meralco Bolts, 89-78, to take a 3-2 series lead in their 2022 PBA Philippine Cup semifinal duel.

San Miguel last made the Philippine Cup finals in 2019, when they outlasted the Magnolia Hotshots in seven games for their fifth straight Philippine Cup title.

Here, we take a closer look at Friday's game with three key thoughts.

Jericho bounces back

SMB guard Jericho Cruz had a forgettable Game 4, logging a measly two points on 1-of-5 shooting. He vowed to do better in Game 5, and did exactly that.

"I couldn't sleep after my last game," he admitted. "The whole season, I can say that was my worst game. So my mindset coming into this game was, just be me. Just play the game I've always played. I shouldn't lose confidence. Our coaches are there to help us rise up again."

While Cruz was not the high-point man for the Beermen, he typified their rejuvenated play on both ends of the court with 17 points and two steals. He also forced Allein Maliksi into three turnovers and just nine shots.

Cruz added: "I really don't think of my scoring, especially since we have a lot of guys on this team who can score.

"My mindset is just to stop those scoring for the other team, which is Maliksi. If I can stop him, we can limit their play on the other end, which is what happened tonight."

The Beermen are the No. 1 offensive team in the league, but it was their defense on Meralco's guards that spelled the difference in this game.

"I think what they're trying to do defensively, they're really trying to take my guards out of the game by tracking them, by trying to deny them the basketball," said Meralco coach Norman Black.

"So we really have to find a better way of getting them over and getting them free for shots. Because right now San Miguel will pretty much live with us giving the ball to our bigs and at the same time they're trying to shake down our guards as much as they can."

The Beermen's defense forced the Bolts into 18 turnovers, of which 11 were steals which led to a 20-11 edge in points off turnovers and a return to their fastbreaking ways.

"Last time (Game 4) we only had two fastbreak points," SMB coach Leo Austria noted after his team put up 14 fast-break points. "We're the leading team in fast-breaks. It's playoff time. You cannot have fastbreaks unless you get steals, and that's what happened tonight.

That third-quarter run

The Bolts were feeling pretty good about themselves at halftime, when they led 44-41. Then came the third quarter where the Beermen outscored them 26-12.

"That's a lesson learned for us," Austria said. "Every time we lost to Meralco, we didn't have a good start in the first quarter and also the third quarter.

"For me, third quarter is pivotal. I addressed it to the team that the third quarter is crucial. What happened is we just ran the plays that we were running before. And that kind of defense, we did not adjust and it worked out."

"I think that's when they gained control of the game, in the third quarter," Black said. "We were up at halftime. But we're a pretty good team. We'll bounce back on Sunday."

Meralco made a run in the fourth, getting to within two at 76-78 with three minutes left, but just couldn't knock down the crucial shots.

Black said it was also a result of their inability to keep up with the Beermen's intensity, explaining: "We had a chance down the stretch but we just couldn't make the plays. I thought they played with a lot more intensity tonight.

"I thought their defense was really good. They kept us on the sidelines as much as they could and severely limited our offense.

"I didn't think we matched their energy as far as the intensity was concerned. So that's something we have to change going into Game 6. I thought they played well tonight, especially defensively. They took us out of our offense."

Austria was happy with the win, but didn't like the way they almost gave up a big lead, adding: "This is a playoff game and we still have to adjust because there are times when we are leading by double figures then all of a sudden it's wiped out.

"And that's something we discussed before. When you're leading, never mind the score. We still have to play our best and you'll never know what will happen especially against Meralco.

Sunday showdown

The Beermen have a chance to finish things on Sunday. The Bolts will have their backs against the wall. It should be interesting.

"(On Saturday) we have to figure out what was wrong with us during that run of Meralco," Austria noted. Hopefully we finish it in six because the other series is also 3-2 and might finish on Sunday and we don't want to be left behind. I hope next game we realize that it is the most important game this conference.

"Meralco is a tough team, and we don't know yet what will happen. Regarding the momentum and the motivation, I think we have that. But it's up to us. This is a situation that we can't let go."

Black is hopeful his big men, whom he praised after their Game 4 win, can collectively recover their mojo after they combined to shoot 6-of-18.

He added: "They gave us the same shots that we were getting last game except that our bigs didn't do as well as far as being able to see the ball off of the double teams.

Our bigs weren't able to make the same plays they made last game. So that's something we'll take a look at in the film and see how we can correct it and do a better job."