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SMB, Star stay in top-2 hunt.

Leo Austria was glad that his San Miguel Beermen experienced something like this heading into the playoffs of the PBA Commissioner's Cup, even if he said that this was the most scared he had been in a game this season.

Trailing a team that wasn't supposed to even stay close to them, the Beermen dug deep in the second half to roar back from 16 points down before upending Blackwater, 124-113, on Wednesday night as San Miguel stayed in the top-two chase at Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay.

'I think that game was the most scary I've experienced this season,' Austria said after booking his eighth win in 10 games while showing the Elite the door with their ninth defeat in 11 outings. 'Our opponent was very confident and really wanted to beat us.'

Star rallied from 21 points down later in the night and carved out a 102-98 overtime victory over Alaska to take No. 1 spot temporarily.

The Hotshots also stayed in contention for twice-to-beat incentives in the playoffs after closing out with a 9-2 record. But for Star to keep that position-and the bonus that goes with it-the Hotshots need San Miguel Beer or Barangay Ginebra-or both-to lose their last games on Friday against GlobalPort and Mahindra, respectively.

Blackwater could have given the Hotshots the Beermen loss that they needed, scoring the first 10 points of the match and grabbing a 72-56 lead at the half.

But that only served as a wake-up call for the Beermen, who came out in the third quarter with all guns firing and their defense unforgiving.

'This is a lesson for us-that we cannot take any team for granted,' Austria said. 'We needed a game like this-that (16-point) deficit forced us to play hard. The players just refused to be beaten.'

Charles Rhodes fired 15 points in the fourth period and June Mar Fajardo hit 12 of his 28 in the third as the two big men took turns in helping the Beermen avert what would have been the biggest upset of the tournament.

Finishing in the top two means needing to beat a lower-ranked squad just once to make the Final Four.

The Gin Kings and the Beermen can go 1-2 with wins on Friday. Star will drop to No. 3 via the quotient if all three teams end up tied with 9-2 cards.

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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Jun 1, 2017
Words:453
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