|Junemar Fajardo held on against Joshua Smith. PBA Media Bureau|
By Patrick Sutare
QUEZON CITY--Last year's Commissioner's Cup protagonists did not take too long before going at each other's faces anew in a Playoff series, and their latest battle did not fall below expectations.
SMB and TNT figured in a tale of two halves this time, and the reigning kings of the tourney once again asserted their mastery over the latter via a come from behind win in Game One of their Best-of-Three quarterfinals, 121-110, on Monday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Beermen pulled off an earth-shattering turnaround next the Ka-Tropa, overcoming a dismal start before fighting back from 23 points down to trip their gritty foes.
Renaldo Balkman spearheaded the second half surge from SMB, scoring 23 of his game high 36 points in the said stretch while adding 16 boards, four assists, two steals and two blocks in 42 minutes of play. Junemar Fajardo followed suit with 27 points - 17 in the second half- and 13 rebounds. Marcio Lassiter scorched hot as well with 26 points, along with six boards and four assists.
The third-seeded Ka-Tropa was actually locked in right at the tip, coming out with their guns blazing to catch SMB on the wrong foot and set the tone of the game.
It was TNT's patented bench mob and running attack which did a chunk of its work after two frames. They dominated both departments - 25 against seven on bench points and 18 against seven on breakaway buckets - to put themselves in a good position going into the second half.
The KaTropa was downright vicious at the onset, firing from all cylinders to hoist a 40-point outburst after one and seize the quarter leading by 19 points before having it slightly trimmed at halftime, 62-48.
But the Beermen's poise was simply unmatched as they started to make noise after the break.
The defending champs found their groove late in the third as a split from Balkman at the 3:41 mark made it a single-digit affair, 80-71.
SMB was about to take full control entering the fourth as it pulled to within two, 88-86.
Another basket from Balkman gave the team its first lead of the game with 7:06 left, 100-99.
A back and forth action then ensued before the sixth-seeded SMB turned to a higher gear in the twilight zone to snatch the win.
RR Pogoy and Joshua Smith paced TNT with 17 apiece but both were checked in the payoff period. The sophomore Pogoy was held scoreless in the fourth while Smith was saddled by foul trouble.
Kelly Williams poured in 16 points, Terrence Romeo had 13 while Tony Semerad added 11 in a losing effort.
Game Two is on Wednesday still at the Big Dome.
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