In a day for rekindling rivalries, it was Arwind Santos who lit the fire inside Pasig's Ynares Sports Arena on Sunday to propel San Miguel past feisty NorthPort, 88-86, and onto their first winning streak in the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup.
The 15-year veteran almost cost the Beermen the game, getting slapped with a technical foul for swinging his left elbow into Sidney Onwubere's neck during a deadball situation. Robert Bolick made good on the ensuing free throw to complete the Batang Pier's comeback from 16 points behind early in the final frame and tie the tally at 86-all with 7.3 ticks on the clock.
Following a timeout, however, Santos was left wide open right at the free throw line and coolly, calmly, and collectedly converted a jumper that broke the deadlock for an 88-86 San Miguel lead. With just 1.2 seconds left, NorthPort put the ball in the hands of Kevin Ferrer whose desperation three from the corner could only hit the side of the backboard.
"We were not able to dominate, but we really want to win - especially Arwind. Congrats, Arwind for your winning shot," beamed Beermen head coach Leo Austria in his post-win interview. "That's what I was expecting from him. The veterans stepped up tonight and it's my pleasure to have them."
Santos wound up with 17 points, five rebounds, and three blocks in San Miguel's back-to-back wins following a season-opening defeat. His clutch shot also spoiled Greg Slaughter's 23-point, 17-point double-double in his first game for the Batang Pier whose rally fell short and whose record fell to 1-2.
Slaughter, while still getting up to game speed, nonetheless outplayed longtime rival June Mar Fajardo who had eight points and seven rebounds as well as Mo Tautuaa who had 11 markers and three boards.
"From the start, I knew this would become a tough game for us because of the presence of Greg Slaughter. We know Greg is out there to prove something," expressed Austria, talking about the 33-year-old big who was making his season debut, but still outproduced Fajardo and Tautuaa combined.
Bolick also bested fierce foe CJ Perez by a hair, with the former stuffing the stat sheet with 19 points, eight rebounds, six assists, two steals, and two blocks and the latter collecting 18 markers, eight boards, five pilfers, and two dimes.
The biggest plays, however, both good and bad, belonged to Santos.
"First of all, for me, age is just a number. That much is evident in his performance today," exclaimed his coach. "It was an ugly finish for us, but a win is a win. I'm happy we snatched this game because this could give us momentum heading into Ginebra and Magnolia."
It was also the former MVP who powered his side's strong start as he scored seven points in the opening frame. However, the two teams were going toe-to-toe until Perez scored on two straight layups to spark an 8-0 charge bridging the second and third quarters that increased a one-point edge into a 54-45 lead.
San Miguel remained in control at the onset of the fourth quarter, up 81-65, only to see Bolick and Slaughter connive for an 18-3 surge that put NorthPort within three, 81-84, inside the last four minutes.
After Perez and Slaughter traded baskets, the two teams exchanged defensive stops until Santos and Onwubere battled for a loose ball. Following Santos' technical foul, Bolick's made free throw, Austria's timeout, Marcio Lassiter's assist, and Santos' free throw line jumper, the Beermen now hold a share of fourth with also 2-1 Meralco.
San Miguel 88 -- Perez 18, Santos 17, Cabagnot 16, Tautuaa 11, Fajardo 8, Lassiter 6, Pessumal 6, Ross 3, Gamalinda 3.
NorthPort 86 -- Slaughter 23, Bolick 18, Onwubere 12, Balanza 11, Malonzo 10, Taha 9, Rike 1, Ferrer 1, Faundo 0, Elorde 0, Doliguez 0.
Quarter Scores: 21-21, 52-45, 79-63, 88-86.
- Slaughter played for the first time since getting traded by Ginebra, the team that drafted him in 2013. He then proceeded to make his first-ever career three at the 3:56 mark of the third quarter. Previously, he had been 0-for-3 from downtown.
- Fajardo played his third game since a shin injury in 2021. He is yet to breach double-digit scoring in the season.
- After finishing a gaudy +40 in their victory versus Phoenix, Onwubere logged a still-respectable +13 and played a big role in NorthPort's almost comeback.
- Terrence Romeo still doesn't have a timeline for return from the hyperextended left knee he sustained a week ago. He, however, has been present in San Miguel's practices and even did some shooting yesterday, according to Austria, who added that they want their gunner to be 100 percent before putting him back in the lineup.
NorthPort vs Barangay Ginebra on Friday, July 30, 3 p.m., at Ynares Pasig
San Miguel vs Blackwater on Wednesday, July 28, 12:30 p.m., at Ynares Pasig