MANILA, Philippines -- A familiar hero stepped up for San Miguel Beer on Sunday, as they kept their bid for a fifth consecutive title in the PBA All-Filipino Cup alive.
Chris Ross, the Finals MVP when the Beermen ruled the Philippine Cup in 2016 and 2017, came up with another big performance in Game 6 against the Magnolia Hotshots.
The veteran guard was on fire in the first half, nailing all five of his attempts from beyond the arc -- including two in the final 65 seconds of the second quarter -- to help the Beermen take control of the game. He also helped limit Magnolia's backcourt stars, with Paul Lee scoring just 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting, and Mark Barroca only contributing 6 points on a 3-of-10 clip.
"Just being aggressive, man. Running our offense and the ball finding the open man," said Ross, who eventually finished with 17 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists in San Miguel's 98-86 triumph.
"It's all a testament to my teammates," he said of his superb performance.
That Ross came up with a great game was of no surprise to San Miguel coach Leo Austria, who said afterward that his guard's extra work in practice was paying off.
"Chris Ross is taking a lot of shots in practice sa 3-point area. Ayun, nagpe-pay off na ang kanyang ginagawa. I think he's really focused on this game, dahil every shot is very important," said the coach.
According to Ross, he told his teammates after the game that they had played "one of our best games" in Game 6. It was a complete team effort for the Beermen: aside from Ross, three other players reached double-digits, and all but one player fielded in scored.
"We played one of our best games today, as far as being unselfish, and sharing the ball and not caring who got the shot, or who got the rebound, team defense, everything," said Ross.
It all started with their main man, June Mar Fajardo, who finished with 23 points on 10-of-14 shooting while grabbing 18 rebounds. With Fajardo double-teamed all game long, there were plenty of open shots to go around, and in the first half it was Ross who made Magnolia pay for how they defended the "Kraken."
"I work on my shooting every day, and I just trust in my work and shoot with confidence," said Ross.
In the second half, Fajardo began to find his teammates. In one instance in the fourth quarter, he whipped the ball to Marcio Lassiter, who was cutting along the baseline for an easy lay-up. The bucket was part of a 14-1 run that SMB used to break the game open for good in the final period.
"How we play today is really tough, when we play like that, when June Mar is getting doubled. June Mar attracts so much attention that we just swing the ball to the open man. It works well for us," said Ross.
"It's a formula that's worked really well for us for the last five years. Sometimes we tend to get away from it," he admitted.
"But when it's bread-and-butter time and it's time to win, we know what we have to do."
San Miguel finished the game shooting 42% from the field, and tallied 21 assists.
With a chance to win a fifth consecutive All-Filipino title on Wednesday, Ross is confident that the Beermen can produce another superb performance.
"As long as we play team ball, someone will have a big game," he said. "It's not just me -- it's everyone out there that gets the opportunity."
Game 7 is on Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum.
"It's everything you worked for in the offseason, everything you worked for in the eliminations, every practice, it all boils down to this," said Ross of the do-or-die contest. "It's one game, winner take all. In the finals, you can't ask for anything better than that."
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