By Ivan Stewart Saldajeno

CHAMPS AGAIN. San Miguel Beer team celebrates after a come-from-behind 104-102 win against Magnolia in Game 6 of the Commissioner’s Cup finals series at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City on Wednesday (Feb. 14, 2024). It was the Beermen’s 29th PBA title. (Photo from PBA website)

MANILA – San Miguel Beer won the PBA Commisisoner’s Cup championship after rallying from a late nine-point deficit to take down Magnolia, 104-102, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City on Wednesday night.

The Beermen needed a huge comeback within the last five minutes to steal the win from the Hotshots despite a Valentine’s Night explosion from birthday boy Paul Lee.

Down 95-86 with 4:58 left, SMB started its comeback by going on a 6-0 run to cut the lead down to two, 95-92, with 2:50 left.

Lee doused some cold water on the Beermen’s rally by burying a huge triple, but a layup from CJ Perez and a triple from Jericho Cruz trimmed the lead down to one, 98-97, with 1:43 left.

Tyler Bey had a chance to extend Magnolia’s lead, but could only make 1-of-2 from the free throw line, and Chris Ross hit a go-ahead three to put SMB up, 100-99, with 1:27 remaining.

June Mar Fajardo forced Calvin Abueva to a bad pass, paving the way for Perez to put up a potential dagger three for a 103-99 cushion with 48 seconds remaining.

The Beermen’s defense forced Rome Dela Rosa to a five-second inbound violation off the Hotshots’ last timeout.

However, Jio Jalalon made up for it by forcing Perez to lose the ball with 31 seconds to go, setting up an Aris Dionisio three that cut the lead down to one, 103-102, with 20.2 seconds left.

Perez somehow kept the door open for Magnolia to steal the win as he missed two clutch free throws, but the team’s big men could not secure the rebound, and the ball landed in the arms of Jericho Cruz, who got to milk the clock before he was fouled with 1.6 seconds remaining.

Cruz split his free throws to up the lead back to two.

With no more timeouts left, the Hotshots’ Dionisio was forced to heave a long three from almost halfcourt that only hit the back rim as time expired.

Perez, who was named the Finals Most Valuable Player, finished with 28 points, one rebound, two assists, and two steals for SMB, which won its 29th PBA championship by beating Magnolia, 4-2, in the best-of-seven series.

Bennie Boatwright and June Mar Fajardo each put up 19-point double-doubles with Boatwright coming just close to a triple-double as he also tallied eight assists.

Lee’s 25-point blast right on his birthday fell short as the Hotshots lost back-to-back games after forcing a 2-2 tie in the series.

The Scores:

SAN MIGUEL 104 – Perez 28, Boatwright 19, Fajardo 19, Cruz 12, Trollano 10, Ross 9, Tautuaa 4, Enciso 2, Teng 1, Lassiter 0

MAGNOLIA 102 – Lee 25, Bey 18, Sangalang 16, Jalalon 12, Barroca 11, Dela Rosa 9, Dionisio 7, Abueva 4, Tratter 0, Escoto 0

QUARTERS: 22-26, 46-51, 73-82, 104-102 (PNA)