Jericho Cruz leads San Miguel to Game 5 victory

San Miguel guard Jericho Cruz during Game 5 of the PBA Commissioner's Cup Finals against Magnolia.–MARLO CUETO/

San Miguel guard Jericho Cruz during Game 5 of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals against Magnolia.–MARLO CUETO/

Jericho Cruz was heading back to the dressing room after a terrific performance that put San Miguel Beer on the cusp of winning the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Commissioner’s Cup when he bumped into his old coach.

“Ang yabang mo!” Rain or Shine coach Yeng Guiao told Cruz, known for his on-court swagger, in jest after his former ward erupted for 30 points highlighted by a crucial corner three-pointer in the final minute that avoided a late collapse and lifted San Miguel Beer a 108-98 victory over Magnolia on Sunday at Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Cruz tied his career-high and helped the Beermen snap a two-game skid for a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series as San Miguel gained two cracks at one win that will wrap up this tightly fought championship playoff.

His performance allowed Cruz—whose outstanding effort included eight triples—to atone for missing Game 3 due to a suspension for accumulated technical fouls and playing anemic upon his return the following match.

Flashing his tongue at Calvin Abueva after a made three during a Game 2 blowout the previous Sunday resulted in Cruz’s fifth technical of the conference, which under PBA rules merits an automatic one-game suspension.“I’m so happy that I played a great game and that we also won. I’m still on Cloud 9,” said Cruz.San Miguel can close it out with a win on Wednesday at the same venue, otherwise, the series goes to a decider two days after at Mall of Asia Arena.

Coach Jorge Gallent will get his first chance at winning his first title since being appointed to head San Miguel Corporation’s flagship franchise, but expects Magnolia to show all its might in hopes of sending it to a sudden death affair.

Others who starred

It was not just Cruz who keyed San Miguel’s victory, as the Beermen’s offense hummed on all cylinders in what could be the most important game of the series.

Simon Enciso came out of nowhere after so-so playing minutes in the series and was inserted as a starter, a gambit that paid off after he knocked down five three-point shots.

June Mar Fajardo shrugged off a nagging left calf injury to deliver on both ends, while import Bennie Boatwright found ways to score in the second half for 21 points.

Magnolia tried multiple times to erase the gap after tying the count at 56-all in the third period behind import Tyler Bey and Ian Sangalang, and was even threatening to even things up when the Hotshots cut a nine-point gap to three with under two minutes left.

Cruz, however, took advantage of the open spot on the right corner and knocked down the dagger three that put San Miguel in safer barrier at 102-96.That hit was San Miguel’s 16th triple of the evening, a huge difference after the Beermen made 15 in Games 3 and 4 combined.

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“Magnolia was really giving the outside shots and we really need to hit them. Because if we don’t, we’ll have difficulty getting some space,” said Cruz. INQ