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SMB or Meralco? do-or-die semis up

DREAMS of making the national team take the back seat as Meralco and San Miguel Beer go to war in a no-tomorrow Game 7 of their semifinals series in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Philippine Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

The winner of that 6 p.m. game will advance to the best-of-seven Finals against defending champion TNT Tropang Giga.

As nine PBA teams agreed to loan their players to the men’s national pool for the fourth window of the International Basketball Federation World Cup Asia Qualifiers later this month, the priority of San Miguel Beer and Meralco’s top guns—including those from TNT—is to get there job done in the all-Filipino confence.

“Everybody wants to play for Gilas, that’s for sure, including me. It’s an honor. But our priority for now is to enter in the Finals and win our first ever championship in the PBA,” the Bolts’ Aaron Black told BusinessMirror after team practice on Tuesday. “Gilas training can wait for now if I’ll be invited or not, but the opportunity to be in the finals isn’t.”

Black, son of Meralco coach Norman, carried the Bolts with his magnificent final two-minute performance for a close 96-92 win over the Beermen in Game 6. He nailed 11 of his 17 points at crunch time to send the series to a Game 7.

“I want our team to have control of the game up to the final second. It’s better to have a good lead up to the end than chasing your opponent’s lead in the closing seconds,” Black said. “What’s important is to come out victorious at the end of the game.”

San Miguel Beer’s CJ Perez agrees with Black, noting that Gilas practice can wait, but not his opportunity to be in his first PBA Finals and a possible championship since he turned pro in 2018.

“It’s going to be a difficult game, more of mental toughness. It will be my first time to be in the Finals if we win,” said Perez, who’s been averaging 21.1 points in the semifinals. “I don’t want to think about practicing with Gilas. The game against Meralco is the most important.”

“We need to learn to close out the game at the last buzzer,” the former national player said. “Gilas is just there while playing in a championship and winning it is once in a lifetime.”

The Meralco-San Miguel Beer series turned out as a seesaw battle with the Beermen winning Game 1, 121-97, Game 3, 96-91 and Game 5, 89-78, and the Bolts claiming Game 2, 99-88, Game 4, 111-97 and Game 6, 96-92.

“Game 7 is all about who wants it more,” San Miguel Beer shooter Marcio Lassiter said. “Both teams are very familiar with each other, so we have to play a full 48 minutes the San Miguel Beermen way.”

Japeth Aguilar, Arvin Tolentino and Scottie Thompson of Ginebra, Ian Sangalang and Jio Jalalon of Magnolia, Calvin Oftana and Kevin Alas of NLEX and Robert Bolick and Jamie Malonzo of NorthPort are so far in the Gilas pool.

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