San Mig avoids elimination with Game 5 win

On the brink of elimination, Marc Pingris and Co. made sure San Mig Coffee won’t go down yet.

With ace gunner James Yap hounded by foul trouble, Pingris provided an inspired outing Saturday night, helping the Mixers dodge the Rain or Shine bullet with a 79-67 victory to stay alive in their PBA Philippine Cup semifinals series at the MOA Arena.

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After struggling in their two previous losses, Pingris came through with eight of his 18 points in the stretch on top of 10 rebounds while teaming up with Joe Devance, PJ Simon and Mark Barroca during San Mig Coffee’s decisive push in the pivotal quarter.

That enabled the Mixers to snap a two-game slide and live to fight another day, forging a 2-3 count in their best-of-seven showdown.

Devance put on an all-around performance with a game-high 20 points plus seven rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals while Simon contributed 16 markers and 11 rebounds.

Add to that Barroca’s 11-point output and his suffocating defense on Rain or Shine’s top guns Paul Lee and Jeff Chan, and San Mig Coffee was all but determined to pull this one out, even with Yap struggling all night long.

The former two-time MVP could only muster two measly points on 1-of-7 shooting in a limited 23 minutes of play, having picked up his fifth foul at the 9:00 mark in the third canto.

“Everyone stepped up for their brother and their leader James,” beamed San Mig Coffee coach Tim Cone. “They talked about it, and that’s what they did.”

“I’m really proud of those guys doing it. It was a tough game but we have to do this one game at a time. They beat us twice in a row, but we believe we can beat them twice in a row,” he added.

Also give credit to San Mig Coffee’s stifling defense. Rain or Shine got 17 more attempts, but just went 28-of-85 (32.9 percent) from the field, a stark contrast on the Mixers’ 28-of-68 (41.2 percent) clip.

Absorbing the full brunt of the Mixers’ defensive clamps Lee and Chan, with the two combining for a mere 11 points while making just three of their 20 tries.

Larry Rodriguez emerged as the lone Painter in double-figures with 14 points, but eight of those came in the third canto that ended with the Mixers protecting a slim 52-50 lead.

After a lay-up by JR Quinahan moved Rain or Shine to within 58-59, San Mig Coffee dropped a blinding 14-5 surge capped by a Devance shot-stab for a commanding 73-63 cushion with exactly five minutes left.

Back-to-back baskets by Lee and Rodriguez kept the Painters’ hopes alive, cutting their deficit at 67-73 with 2:32 remaining. The Mixers, however, hung tough by sinking six free throws, with Simon canning four.

“Kinausap kami ni coach kahapon na ‘Ibigay na naming ang lahat.’ Naging agresibo lang ako sa opensa at depensa para matulungan sina James at PJ. Buti nag-contribute rin ang lahat,” related Pingris.

Both teams will gain a much-needed respite with Game 6 set on Thursday also at the Pasay-based venue.

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