By Adrian Stewart Co
Alex Cabagnot made a triumphant return as San Miguel Beermen (SMB) edged NorthPort Batang Pier, 88-87, in Game 1 of the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup quarterfinals on Sunday night at the Don Honorio Ventura State University Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Trailing 87-86 after a long three-pointer from Batang Pier’s Robert Bolick Jr. with five seconds left, Cabagnot easily attacked the defense of NorthPort for a fade away basket with a second left to give the Beermen an 88-87 advantage.
Cabagnot made his return from a torn left meniscus injury with 20 points, while Moala Tautuaa and Jaymar Perez added 15 and 14 points, respectively, as the Beermen took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.
“Alex was the first option to receive,” said Beermen head coach Leo Austria on the winning play. “I know Alex is familiar with that kind of situation in that area. There are so many options after that but the first option, he was open.”
Comfortably ahead at 83-72 with four minutes left, the Beermen were stunned by a furious Batang Pier uprising, led by Ilonggo Juan Paolo Taha, to trim the deficit to 84-85 on a three-point play by Bolick.
Cabagnot increased the Beermen’s lead to 86-84 after splitting his two free throws with seven seconds remaining before Bolick knocked in a three-pointer from near the logo for an 87-86 advantage.
“I want to give thanks to coach Leo,” said Cabagnot. “I just got in (on Saturday) night. He could easily not play me today because of what’s going on, haven’t practiced, but he gave me the trust and he left me out there.”
Sean Anthony top-scored with 16 points, Gregory Slaughter added double-double 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Bolick and Jamie Malonzo had 13 markers each for the Batang Pier./ASC, WDJ